Release Date: 3 May 2019
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This year has seen a whole slew of unlikely returns to the studio, running the musical gauntlet from death metal pioneers Possessed to Italian prog rock legends Banco del Mutuo Soccorso via seventies rock icons Black Oak Arkansas, but somehow the most unlikely is L7. Grunge is old enough now to fall into the nostalgia sweet spot but it hasn't and, frankly, it hasn't even shown any signs of returning to favour. L7's return doesn't look like being the spark to a trend but it could be, because this is a pretty fun album.
While we might think back at grunge sounding all downtuned and depressing, that's never been what L7 are. I'd describe this as pop punk, if I could keep inappropriate ties to bands at the more commercial end of that genre out of the picture, like the Offspring and Green Day. That's not what this is. It reminded me a lot more of early Adam and the Ants. Many songs here, especially Uppin' the Ice, feel like the grandchildren of Cartrouble and Physical (You're So) and others from the Dirk Wears White Sox era.
On Scatter the Rats, L7 do what Adam Ant did so well back then, singing no end of catchy tunes over simple hooks that all have a grungy twist to rock 'n' roll roots but are coloured through little responses from guitars and effects. Add in some Ramones and some Blondie and maybe some Bangles on Holding Pattern and this is as much a throwback to 1979 as it is to 1992 and that made for an interesting ride. What's different, of course, is modern production and pissed female vocals. Ouija Board Lies wouldn't sound too different if it was recorded by Adam Ant and Debbie Harry.
It's hard for a while to determine which the catchiest tracks are, but I'm pretty sure that Fighting the Crave has to top the list. It's driven by a delightful bass riff from Jennifer Finch and a callout style vocal from, I presume, Donita Sparks. It's worth mentioning here that this version of L7 features the entire classic line-up that existed from 1986 to 1996 and ever since they got back together in 2014 after thirteen years apart.
Album opener Burn Baby and Uppin' the Ice are the most obvious candidates to battle Fighting the Crave for the catchiest song here, but most of the rest aren't too far behind. Everything here is at least mildly catchy and I have to include Proto Prototype in that, even though it has the simplest and most repetitive riff I've heard in a long time. Stadium West relies on a catchy vocal line and meows, of all things, because it flaunts another simple riff that needs enhancement.
The majority of the songs here run from two and a half to four minutes, the band clearly not interested in anything that isn't short, sharp and to the point. The only exception to that is the title track which closes out the album, which is wilder and punkier. I quite liked it but it's a little out of place with the ten tracks that preceded it.
It's good to see L7 back and on form too. After all, grunge grew out of a rejection of the artificial music that was dominating the mainstream. Few would disagree that what's in the charts today is even more artificial than what was in the charts as the eighties became the nineties. Most songs are written by the same two or three songwriters and, hey, we have autotune now to make musicians cringe.
I'd dearly love for someone to crash that party and I'd grin like an idiot if that someone turned out to be a band of women in their fifties singing lines like, "My love is like a garbage truck." Let's turn the charts into a Celebrity Deathmatch between L7 and Justin Bieber with music winning.