Veruca Salt: Eight Arms To Hold You

eightarmstoholdyouIt’s been over five years since I reviewed Veruca Salt’s 1994 debut, American Thighs, over at an old joint. I remember loving that album and gave it four [clowns]. Given that, I’m surprised it took me so long to review what was, until this year, the only other album the combination of Nina Gordon and Louise Post put out together. Regardless, I wanted to ride the reunion train that left the station earlier this year, and so I decided to catch up.

I’m also surprised it took the band three years to follow up American Thighs with a proper album, given how hot the iron was with that disc’s hit “Seether” (a track they name-check here in the first single “Volcano Girls,” which is a bold move to say the least). It’s additionally surprising that the gap between albums was three years given that this feels tired and rushed, as if they were trying to strike when the iron was hot, right after they got off of a whirlwind tour or something. Maybe it’s Bob Rock’s typically big, empty production (not sure why bands who weren’t Mötley Crüe ever worked with him) or maybe it’s the presentation of the same symptoms that led to Nina Gordon leaving the band to pursue a solo career. Who knows? I can’t find anything anywhere that hints there was any kind of discord within the band.

They still do a lot of what they did well well [sic]. The lyrics are witty and powerful, though I can never quite get the angle, whether it’s first-person or third-person, whether it’s empowering or shameful…. Like what’s going on in “One Last Time”: “Love me like a monster/One last time/Control me like a father/One last time/Stay with me till I’m stronger”? The guitars are also still the centerpiece of the band, though instead of carrying a lot of melody, here they’re more noisy, heavy, and angry. There’s still plenty of poppy melody, but it’s usually concentrated in the verses and the choruses end up being repetitive let-downs (e.g., “Stoneface,” “Awesome”), which is a big part of why this album feels rushed, because the songs feel half-written. Song structure is still good…the bridges end up being the best part quite a bit of the time.

They’ve also ventured into new territory. I mentioned the noisier guitar feel. There’s also a broader sonic canvas, encompassing strings (“Benjamin”) and synths (“Don’t Make Me Prove It,” “Sound Of The Bell”), that are layered really nicely under the bombast (so, there you go, kudos, Bob Rock).

One of the things I said about American Thighs is that it really sums up 1994 almost perfectly. Eight Arms To Hold You‘s relationship with 1997 is more complex. They seem to reference Rocky Horror Picture Show from two decades prior with a “What’s coming over me” line in “Awesome.” In the other chronological direction, the line “volcano girls we really can’t be beat” gets at a sentiment Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” would render void of all the excitement here 13 years later. And “Loneliness Is Worse” sounds like Mutt Lange-produced Shania Twain from the same era as this record. So in the end it kind of averages out to 1997, I guess.

Sometimes bands, in inventing a new sound, need to release a mid-point album that isn’t as good as the old sound they had or the new sound is going to be once it’s developed. This might have been one of those albums, but when the band essentially broke up after this disc, we were robbed of every knowing where this was meant to go. For 18 years, then, it stood as a very good but unsatisfying swan song for the original lineup. And as such, I’m not sure if I want to let it stand as such, or if I want to throw caution to the wind and find out what this year’s reunion album, Ghost Notes, has to offer. Stay tuned, I guess.

Rating:
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Mix: “The Morning Sad”
Really Like: “Volcano Girls,” “Don’t Make Me Prove It,” “One Last Time,” “With David Bowie,” “Earthcrosser”
Like:
“Straight,” “Awesome,” “Benjamin,” “Sound Of The Bell,” “Loneliness Is Worse,” “Stoneface”
Meh: “Shutterbug,” “Venus Man Trap”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Straight –
  2. Volcano Girls – name-checks “Seether,” which is pretty bold. “Volcano Girls we really can’t be beat” foreshadows Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” by at least ten years and beats that song by about ten clowns.
  3. Don’t Make Me Prove It – nice riff at start. I like the cowbell-y percussion sounds coming from a synth, the Star Wars blaster sound going on in the guitar right before the second verse, and the strainy near-growl in her voice.
  4. Awesome – There’s what seems like a nod to Rocky Horror here with the lyrics “What’s coming over me.” The verses are awesome, but the chorus could have been developed more.
  5. One Last Time – the peak is awesome
  6. With David Bowie – This track has a great start to it. The guitars come in all fuzzed out and provide what feels like an orgasm’s equivalent of release and relief and then head into a joyous afterglow of a riff. The rest of the song’s a let down after that, but it’s still really good.
  7. Benjamin – strings. Slow. Boring if you’re not in the mood for it. Also kind of references “I know what kind of love this is/I was there when we made it” by I don’t know but Cry Cry Cry covered it
  8. Shutterbug – could do without those weird camera sounds at the beginning. This is heavy with some really screamy guit, which is nice, but the song plods a bit too much for me.
  9. The Morning Sad – the best song
  10. Sound Of The Bell –  beginning sounds like The Cure, spesh with that keys sound. cool dolphin guit sounds in bridge.
  11. Loneliness Is Worse – this is really good despite it sounding like some kind of 90’s country crap. I’m thinking of Mutt Lange-era Shania Twain, which I guess is to say Shania Twain of the same era. That feel leaves a stink on it, but it’s still quite good.
  12. Stoneface – about dating a junkie
  13. Venus Man Trap – is this about groupies?
  14. Earthcrosser – if you made it this far you’re rewarded with a good track. This album seems longer than its 51 minutes.
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