Saturday, June 6, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 744: L7

Before I begin I want to give a big shout out and thank you to my friend Randall, who recently gave me a thoughtful introduction to his favourite band, “My Morning Jacket.”

I didn’t love “My Morning Jacket”, but they do have some pretty cool songs. My favourites include “The Bear,” “Golden” and “Librarian.” Overall MMJ reminded me of Band of Horses when I was enjoying them and later Radiohead when I wasn’t.

My next review is for a band very unlike either of those bands.

Disc 744 is….L7 (Self-titled)
Artist: L7

Year of Release: 1988

What’s up with the Cover?  A very grainy photo of the band. I think this cover is designed to capture the raw and visceral quality of L7’s music, but for me it just captures the fact that they probably couldn’t afford better cover art at this stage of their careers.

How I Came To Know It: I had discovered L7 through the two albums that followed this one, and this was just me drilling back through their collection.

How It Stacks Up:  I have the first four L7 albums. I’m thinking about getting 1997’s “The Beauty Process” but haven’t made up my mind. Of the four I have, I’d put this one last, just a hair behind “Hungry for Stink.”

Ratings: 3 stars

L7’s self-titled debut is their most raw and rough-edged, which is saying something about a band that is pretty raw and rough-edged at the best of times. It is a perfect intersection of metal and punk. Coming out in 1988, this album is an early entry into the world of grunge, and should get more credit than it does.

The punk elements are clear on this record, which has 11 songs but clocks in at under 32 minutes of playing time. Six of those minutes are taken up by “Uncle Bob” (who, we are advised, is a drunken slob) leaving 25 minutes for everything else. It is enough time to put across a basic idea, both musically and lyrically, thrash the hell out of that idea and then wrap it up in 2-3 minutes and move on.

These songs have maybe two chords, but never get boring (they don’t give you time to get bored). If they want to signal a new section for the song then they change the rhythm up a bit and just power through.

It is that power that brings the metal to the equation. The dual guitars of Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner grind out a relentless thrash that makes you want to let your hair fall into your eyes and nod your head up and down in the homage known to every metal fan: the mosh. I can’t tell you who is the lead guitar player, but they are mostly just crunching out rhythm anyway.

I listened to about half this album waiting outside a senior’s centre for Sheila’s Weight Watcher’s meeting to wrap up so we could go for dinner. The quiet dignity of the senior’s centre tried valiantly to impose itself, but L7 was having none of it. This music is a tonic against getting old before your time.

The topics of this album are very limited, mostly referencing drinking, fighting and fucking in no particular order. There isn’t much plot development either. A scene is set with someone doing one of the aforementioned three activities, they do it with gusto, and then you are on to the next song.

Donita Sparks’ raspy voice and punk vocal delivery match the topics perfectly, and make you feel like you are right there. She spits out the lyrics, angry at the world and proud of it. Here is a sample from “I Drink” which showcases the type of high-brow prose Sparks occupies herself with:

“I drink, I get drunk I fall on my face
All my friends tell me I’m a basket case
I got so drunk, I don’t remember what happened
But everybody said I had a real good time.”

Later, Sparks manages to recall that she drank White Russians, and puked outside while someone tried to kiss her. No doubt this song would expound even further on a quality evening out, but at 2:55 playing time there really isn’t any time for it.

Let’s Rock Tonight” and “Cool Out” have the slightly (and I mean slightly) smoothed out sound that later albums like “Smell the Magic” and “Bricks are Heavy” would be known for, but make no mistake – L7’s debut is about visceral take-no-prisoners rock. This isn’t music to sip wine to and discuss poetry, it is music to drink, get drunk and fall on your face to. Or maybe just have a laugh at such youthful notions while hanging out on a park bench outside the senior’s centre. I’m not ready for my room inside just yet.

Best tracks: Cat-O’-Nine-Tails, Let’s Rock Tonight, Uncle Bob, Runnin’ from the Law, I Drink

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