“It’s like going to church,” the music critic said.
“It’s sold out. I want to die,” the hostess said.
“Can you get me a ticket? I’ll do anything,” the brown-haired girl said.
All three were talking about Girls, the all-boy rock band that played to a sold-out crowd at Terminal 5, with their back-up singers and flower petal microphones. They’re currently being touted as the moment’s savior of rock. But standing in the crowded venue last week, I didn’t see it. I hadn’t listened to them before. Lighters flickered from the middle of the crowd, as lead singer Chris Owens crooned out 50s swoon, wearing a red plaid shirt, Nirvana locks and a denim skirt. Everything about the performance seemed like an obvious derision of better acts from yesteryear.
Slowly I pieced it together. The singer is skinny enough to look strung out. His face is pristine pallor. Pretty enough to die soon and therefore be forever ephemeral. We want him to be the anti-hero, becauseAmerica hasn’t had a real one since Kurt Cobain.
We’ve come close, with fadsters like Julian Casablancas leading the way in 2001. But then they got panned for their sophomore album Room on Fire and did the worst thing they could have done. Theylistened. They really listened to the reviews and took them to heart. Jay Rheatard is probably the closest we’ve really come to the anti-hero of today, but in reality, he wasn’t sexy enough. This brings us back to that pretty face and me leaving the show early because it was daunting to think that this is what people are hailing as the next step.
Owens brings to mind the movie version of a rock star. Michael Pitts’ Tommy Gnosis. Songs which feel soundtracked rather than written. His innocent doo-wop vibe had me reminiscing about Frankie Avalon’s “Beauty School Drop Out.” That same timed-out: this is where you move! Yes. I left the show, generally pissed about a wasted evening and the state of music today. A completely balanced see-saw, with over-production on one side, blaring pop anthems that have been studied and programmed into the youth. And lo-fi on the other, cranking out no sound white noise.
I took to my computer looking for some sort of solace. Some release. I started listening to Girls’ latest album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Taking angry notes on the one and half minute previews I got of each song on iTunes. Honey Bunny, obvious rip on the post-punk movement. Early Elvis Costello with a hint of Buddy Holly. A stupid chorus that’s easy for jerk offs to shout in any venue. Die, an attempt at angry noise. Taking “Honey Bunny” to the next step. Trying for actual punk, actual metal, but it’s unconvincing. They say “Fuck” in this song. Edgy. Just A Song Think flamenco guitar, until Chris Owens’ girly voice kicks in “feels like nobody’s happy now/it really feels like it’s gone” Interesting that they’re making it general and not “I wanna slit my wrists.” Is this his commentary on the world? Alex, cheap rip off of “Jeremy,” without the drama. “Nevermind,” without the message. But… I kind of like it. Saying I Love You Back to 50’s slow dance. There’s not one allusion to sex, a rarity in music today.
I researched the band, like a jazzed up teen after a first date. Looking for the tidbits to make nice on date number two. I found out that Owens was raised in a cult, Children of God. Bounced out to the States where he ditched around with punkers for a while. Settled in Cali and started working out the kinks of a band. Finding his voice. His sound. With fellow Girls founder JR White, they put out the album Album, which has its merits, but showed obvious signs of a work in progress. It’s caught more on the lo-fi side of the see-saw, rather than the middle ground that their sophomore Father, Son, Holy Ghost rests in. Still, they were able to build off their stronger tracks “Lust for Life,” (turns out it wasn’t a cover, but an original song, who knew?) and “Laura,” leaving the feedback trash of the less than average “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker,” and “Morning Light,” behind. [Note: if there weren’t so much mud to “Morning Light,” it would be a great song, lingering at points on a Joy Division darkness].
The sound is bigger on their second album. Clearer. With the addition of drummer Darren Weiss, guitarist John Anderson and keyboardist Dan Eisenberg, Girls makes the genre-shifts seamlessly.
I realized that the fact that they are influenced by so many past acts, and are able to capture four decades 50’s-90’s on one record isn’t a reason to hate them. Weird, huh? More amazing, they’re able to appeal to the younger crowd without the basic elements of sex and drugs. The only lyrics landing close to real rebellion fall in Die: “No, nothings gonna be alright/ No, we’re all gonna get fucked up tonight.” And Love Like a River: “My love is like a river/ She just keeps rolling on.” Pretty tame. Pretty cutesie. Pretty alright. In the days after “Put it in my Mouth,” and the days of Brooklyn hipster bands rocking about the needle heads that no longer exist on Ludlow, successful goop rock isn’t so bad. It’s the new “old”.
So am I saying that Girls are really the cat’s meow, louder than the oncoming dog’s bark? No. Am I saying they’re the hell rakin’ act of the moment? No. I’m saying they’re a band very much worth keeping your eye on. Worth giving a chance to. And if their church comes back to town, this choir boy’ll keep to his pew the whole sermon through.
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