Robert Christgau on L7's Feedback-Drenched, Feminist Aggro
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews L7's 'Fast and Frightening' and Joan Jett's 'Bad Reputation' biodoc soundtrack
Gonzales Photo/Peter Troest/PYMCA/Avalon/UIG via Getty Images
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
L7: Fast and Frightening (Easy Action) "Femininity is sensitivity with a light, delicate touch. But femininity is also intensity when it comes from four fine hard-rocking ladies—L7." So intones a menacing Donita Sparks to kick off the 1992 Radio Brisbane performance that precedes a 1990 Detroit show on disc two, both of which show off this feminist song band's equal commitment to feedback-drenched aggro. Basically a lotta noise with tunes buried in it, I've come to dig their ballroom blitz as much as disc one's winning array of stray live and tribute-record covers: not just the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" but Willie Nelson's "Three Days," not just the Dead Kennedys' "Let's Lynch the Landlord" but Ray Barretto's "El Watusi." This 2016 double-CD was released to whip up word-of-mouth for a comeback expected to generate a new album that has yet to materialize beyond a single that doesn't live up to the title "Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago." Get it while you can if you can. A MINUS
Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (Blackheart) Somehow this soundtrack to the new biodoc of the same name manages not to impinge too drastically on such previous best-ofs as 1993's Flashback, 1999's Fit to Be Tied, 2010's Greatest Hits, or the inferior 2013 comp she also called Bad Reputation. In fact, it's the most impressive of the bunch, mostly because it enlists outside help she's manifestly earned. Sure I miss "Light of Day" and "Fake Friends" and would respectfully suggest she exhume the XXX version of "Fetish." But what rock and roller can get too much of "I Love Rock N Roll," "Rebel Rebel," or "Bad Reputation" itself? Of the new "Fresh Start" earning its lead position, the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" a crucial quantum louder than the Blackhearts', a "Crimson and Clover" born to be obliterated by its Stooges B side? Or, especially, of the three inspired guest add-ons: Bikini Kill's generation-bridging "Rebel Girl," Rea's defiant anthem-in-waiting "Feminazi," and—perfect—a remake of Jett's cover of the Replacements' "Androgynous" that puts Miley Cyrus in the same studio as Laura Jane Grace? A MINUS
The Beths: Future Me Hates Me (Carpark) No matter how hooky your g-g-b-d pop, no matter how unchauvinistic your female-with-male-support setup, it gives the wrong impression to call your best song "You Wouldn't Like Me" ("You Wouldn't Like Me," "Happy Unhappy") ***
Lala Lala: The Lamb (Hardly Art) Resisting sexist abuse, dream-pop style ("Destroyer," "I Get Cut") *
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