Friday, April 20, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1129: L7

I usually sleep in a bit when I have a Friday off, but I got up early today because I have a busy day of chores and wanderin’. Instead of getting that early start I fell into the Internet looking up football schedules, hockey news and whether a Muncie 4-speed is a good match for a 383 Stroker. Answer: it depends on what you’re using your car for.

Anyway, let’s get to the crunch and growl of a different kind.

Disc 1129 is… Smell the Magic
Artist: L7

Year of Release: 1991

What’s up with the Cover? Some badass rock n’ rollers that I wouldn’t want to meet in a back alley. Or would I? It’s complicated.

How I Came To Know It: This is from the grunge/folk wars of the early nineties with my friend and roommate Greg. This was one of several great albums he introduced me to.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four L7 albums and I like them all. “Smell the Magic” is tied with “Bricks are Heavy” for #1 – it is a tossup between  the crisp brilliance of “Bricks are Heavy” and the muddy power of “Smell the Magic”. However, I’m not here to equivocate so I’ll put “Smell the Magic” in at #2 in a photo finish. This isn’t because “Brick are Heavy” is better, it only because I loved it first.

  1. Bricks are Heavy: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 133)
  2. Smell the Magic: 4 stars (reviewed right here)
  3. Hungry for Stink: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 344)
  4. Self-Titled:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 744)
Ratings: 4 stars

Sometimes the world can be an angry and dangerous place and in those moments it needs angry and dangerous music to match: enter L7’s “Smell the Magic”. There are no apologies here and no relief from the onslaught of furious guitar riffs and grimy power. L7 are here to do it to you in your ear-holes.

This album isn’t here to teach you anything, but it is here to give voice and power to anyone who needs to shout a little. The songs are simple but well-constructed, with the snarl of punk but the precision of metal. On top of it all rides Donita Sparks’ growl, spitting into the microphone with the fury of both.

The album begins with one of my all-time favourite L7 songs, “Shove” a song about frustration on many fronts including paying the bills, and dealing with landlords, parents and sexist assholes. L7’s response to the myriad annoyances and frustrations of daily life? “Step out of my way/or I’m gonna shove” sung with a ferocity that puts some weight behind that shove. The guitar riff climbs around in this song with a restless energy that makes it clear that the shove could come at any minute from any direction, so keep your distance. Only you don’t. Instead you feel empowered to shove your own problems out of the way. L7 isn’t mad at you, they’re mad for you.

The next song, “Fast and Frightening” is a character study of the baddest girl in school. There are so many shocking descriptors of her character, including:

“Her glance hits me like lightning
I heard that girl is fast and frightening
Dirty hair and a laugh that's mean
Her neighbors call her an evil machine”

Note that after some internal debate I’ve quoted the least offensive verse of this song by far. If you have the intestinal fortitude for it, feel free to look up or listen to the rest.

Musically, “Fast and Frightening” mixes Motorhead style punk/metal with handclaps right out of a sixties pop song. This adds a clever undercurrent of musical history into a modern song of rebellion. This is a classic biker movie brought to a modern audience through music.

“Smell the Magic” is full of these damaged characters. On “Deathwish” women party ‘til they puke and hitchhike home and on “’Till the Wheels Fall Off” people who are bad for each other vow to stick together and ride their lives into the ground. L7 doesn’t extoll these choices, and they don’t damn them. They present the lives of the angry and the broken without a filter, and let you decide how you feel about that.

The final song on the album is a bit more melodic than what comes before. “American Society” has the crispness that is more at home on “Bricks are Heavy” along with more political message, albeit delivered from a personal perspective. Everything on “Smell the Magic” feels personal and immanent, which is how rock and roll should feel. The chunky groove on the song is so powerful when I played it I played it twice – once as I walked in the door after work and the next morning at the bus stop. I felt like quite the rebel, even though I was standing there in a suit preparing to go sit at a desk all day.

As I noted earlier, the production on “Smell the Magic” bugs me a little. It is muddy and the mix is very low – a common malaise for CDs released around this time. On the other hand that mud gives the album a bit more grit that it might otherwise lose with too much sharpness. As for the volume, I just turned it up - and so should you.

Best tracks: Shove, Fast and Frightening, Deathwish, ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off, American Society

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