As long-time readers know, I live for girl-rock. My greatest rave has been Lisa Marr, who has been far too quiet lately, with The Muffs, featuring the glorious Kim Shattuck, a close second. And we must not forget Angela from the unjustly obscure Cutters (check out “Postcards”). Nor can we overlook Kitty from the Kowalskis (check “Kiss me One More Time”).
I recently gave a listen to Visqueen. I suppose I ignored them because when they opened for The Muffs in Chicago, a show I missed because of work, grrrr, my wife didn’t like them. She was standing there with our friend, a living encyclopedia and oracle of Rock, who said to her, disdainfully, “you don’t get it do you? They’re channeling Heart”. Good insight, but a Heart in a world where punk rock already happened. Go to the Visqueen MySpace page, and listen to “Ward”, which is a great song.
Rachel, the singer, has a key strength for any girl singer. She knows how to sing the word “baby”.
Lara Kiang of the late, lamented 6X, also knew her way around the two or three syllables of bay-bay-uh. (Scroll down to “What Can I Do?”)
Neko Case is a special case indeed. She is a massively great girl singer. But I don’t like her original songs. Her many fans scoff at this, and I concede there is no accounting for taste. But when she applies her chops to one of the many exquisitely tasteful covers in her repertoire, there is no one better. Her version of “Train to Kansas City” is breathtaking. It’s on her MySpace page. It is actually better than the original version by the Shangri-Las , which is an almost inconceivable achievement.
However, the Shangri-Las version has a quality that Neko does not capture. The Shangri-Las version sounds more menacing, which befits its dark subtext. Mary Weiss, the singer, leaves more than a hint of ambiguity in the song. You get the feeling the guy coming in from Kansas City just got out of jail, and he is scary. She is scared of him, but is still attracted to him, she likes his edge and danger. She does love her new boyfriend. But she also pities him. She knows he is not man enough to go face this guy, she has to do it. And that tells us she really does want the bad guy more than the nice guy — “you” and, each of us — she is singing to. Mary sings “baby, baby, please believe me, I would never, ever do anything to hurt you”. You think: “She’s lying”. When Neko sings it, you believe her. Neko is just telling some modern, sensitive, probably metrosexual guy to buzz off. She’ll do it, and come home. Mary is going to meet some guy with greasy hair, tattoos, a leather jacket, and a switchblade. And we know, and she knows, she’s getting back on the train with him. Some black magic of production and talent and luck wove this whole story-within-a-story into the song. Quite how they pulled it off is unfathomable. We must concede something to the serendipitous genius of pop music.
To top it off: Neko and Mary both sing “baby, baby” really nicely.
Bonus: Here is Neko doing a nice live version. The down-side is the picture is sideways. But, we get to see Neko in a skirt, which makes up for a lot.