Kurt Cobain said that listening to The Raincoats was like sneaking into the attic of these strange girls you like, and finding out what they really say when boys aren’t around. (Try to remember that’s not meant to be a creepy thing…) Problem is, after 30 years of girls without the technical juno [*] of Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro opening their diaries and setting them to new wave, what else is there to say about lame relationships that doesn’t belong in a diary? (That’s not a rhetorical question: see forthcoming reviews of Emmy the Great and Frida Hyvonen for partial answers.)
Shrag are comprised of three girls and two Sleeper-blokes (remember that term? We might need a new one, but it works for now, seeing as how they look old enough to have served in Britpop bands). The name makes you think “The Shaggs” and what a band called “The Shrugs” would sound like; a bit sleazy, too – the way “Slint” suggests a teenage code to fox parents with. I quite like’em, by the way, in case you’re expecting a hatchetjob; they remind me of Kenickie, for the most part, with several tracks (and keyboards on others) that suggest the next thing they do could be like Elastica’s sadly neglected second album, The Menace (where all the dub, primitive electronica, and Fall influences came to the fore).
After a few bars of politely angry guitars from the boys, the album opens with a “foetus-as-parasite” metaphor, like Aliens in the UK. (Okay, this is interesting; it’s not Hole, but then Stephanie Goodman isn’t Courtney Love, and the producers aren’t Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, either, so we won’t hold that against them.) The lyrics also suggest “cock-as-parasite”, too, which is a neat ambiguity… but the politics of ‘Pregnancy Scene’ are more problematic – is there a hint that young mothers are scroungers? That the one thing worse than a dumb boy knocking you up is being like those pramface pikeys? Hmm. Jury’s out…
Second track, ‘Long Term Monster’, also wants to tell you how much some guy sucks with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style metaphor, but underwhelms with music that belongs onstage at The Bronze (and how many Buffy fans actually like the music, however devout?). Mixed feelings accompany ‘Talk to the Left’ – maybe the lyrics should shame a boy like me into dropping the dirty-talk, but it doesn’t – the lyrics have me thinking that it’s cribbing the scene from Nathan Barley where he horrifies Claire, rapping that he’s going to go “south with me mouth” – and, hey, didn’t Kate Nash totally felch Chris Morris on her first single, i.e. turning the ‘Bad Uncle’ song into some drivel about the suckiness of boys?! Still, it’s infinitely superior to Ms. Nash, and, as a lo-fi keyboard-led song, bodes well for a more experimental follow-up (see also the bedroom post-rock of ‘Intro’, and the dub-lite of ‘Hopelessly Wasted’).
After all, this is a singles collection, with extras, and the songs work as well together as many an album from Britpop’s second-tier acts (Menswear, Sleeper, Echobelly, Kenickie). Judged against Courtney Love – who made feminine sexuality and biology sound like a Lovecraftian nightmare (all guts and goo and gaping toothless mouths…) – Goodman’s metaphors are a little weak, but so what? Judged against Mark E. Smith (whose name is used in the title of Track 11) it’s very, very safe. For instance, ‘Intelligent Theft’ nicks the narrative of The Slits’ ‘Shoplifting’ but fails to find a 21st century equivalent for their musical miscegenation – how about some grime? Still, there’s the promise of angrier, wittier anthems yet to be written in lines like "I went to / a rubbish school / but it woulda / been better / with-out you!" Instead of writing catchy but predictable songs like ‘45 45s’ (about shaking off a boy’s cultural influences), Goodman should stand by her own; maybe soak up some influences from the Ladyfest tour. We’ll be waiting for what they do next.
[* = sadly under-used feminine form of “genius”]
6Alexander Tudor's Score