LA FEMME, NO HOMME? (She Loves You Vol.1) - Various Artists
(Half a Cow)
Okay, before I get started let me haul out my prejudices and flop them down on the table in plain view. I knew this CD was coming out because I'm on the Half A Cow Records mailing list - I originally joined during the seemingly interminable wait for The Eastern Dark CD, in the hope of hearing some good news about it, but for several years the only announcements seemed to be more postponements (but fuck, wasn't it worth the wait when it finally did come out!). When I saw the announcement of this compilation I was pretty cynical - a diverse grab bag of songs and styles whose only connection is that their proponents have no penises? Yeah, right; an entirely logical and reasonable basis for putting an album together.

More to the point, what does it realy signify? A handful of hard line feminist riot grrrls screaming "Chicks rule!", stridently denouncing the male of the species and pausing only occasionally to spit out the odd bit of gristle or a half-chewed testicle? Alright I'm exaggerating. Let's face it, Half A Cow tends to favour fairly light, frothy pop, notwithstanding the Eastern Dark and more recent Plunderers retrospective CDs. Think: Smudge, Sneeze and Swirl; and that's just one letter of the alphabet. So an entire album of swirly guitar girly bands (and one which foregoes the harsher rowdiness of the likes of Fur and the Mystaken) might seem like a logical project for the label, but it's certainly not a logical purchase for this noise addict.

On top of that, multi-artist compilations are always problematic: if the tracks are album tracks and the bands are new to you, then it might serve as a good introduction, but you end up buying the albums of the tracks you really like and never playing the rest again after the first few listenings, leaving even the sampler tracks you liked as unnecessary duplicates. Alternatively, if there are bands on it you already like and the songs are non-album tracks, then you are forced into buying the whole sampler for those one or two songs you don't have by the bands you like. Thank God for CDs, so at least we're spared the additional aggravation of seven different coloured vinyl EPs, each with a slightly different cover and one different extra/rare song or mix...

Under normal circumstances the entire matter would have rested there, at least in so far as it affects me, but a promo copy fell off the Barman's already overloaded CD self and I caught it just before it hit the floor. Slipping this into the CD player, I settled down with a suitable drink from the Ladies Lounge (something sweet and sickly with an umbrella in it, or if not an umbrella then at least a couple of straws and a swizzle stick) and was pleasantly surprised when Vermishus immediately shoved me back into the upholstery of my chair, the shoegazey guitar intro giving way to a throaty chanteuse vocal, pushing down into my chest like the firm hand of a disapproving school mistress (and if the fingernails aren't painted with black lacquer, then they ought to be).

Apparently these girls are not too long out of school themselves, so I'd better restrain myself in terms of any further dominant femme fantasies. This song reminds me of the Cranberries, only without so much of the whinge rock overtones, and is from a forthcoming EP (on HAC of course), though I don't doubt that it's here because it makes a great opening track, rather than through the mere commercial consideration of promoting a forthcoming release.

Next song (from the Spinsters) is much lighter and poppier, even if the lyrics are relatively sombre. This is a lot closer to what I was expecting, with a Chills/Bats Kiwi Pop feel to it. It's enjoyable enough, but I cannot resist a self-satisfied smirk as I listen.

The third track is by Nitocris, who reputedly decided to form a band when they were all kicked out of the same High School music class. Whether or not their musical growth has suffered from that disruption to their tuition, this song owes more to Black Sabbath and Guns N' Roses than to the likes of Hole or even Joan Jett. Their recent "Dark Side" single represented a much more poppy approach by what had previously been an obdurate arse kicking/whip cracking/bottom smacking band. This is from the same album, though closer to what I think of fondly as their earlier "corporal punishment" style. However I already have this album.

Fourth track is by Spdfgh, a brat-pop band whose members went straight into the recording studio from school, ending up with several releases on HAC in the mid to late nineties (hmm, another "S" band - don't worry, the sound you can hear now is just me shuffling my prejudices around). This has a slight Hip Hop feel (or Techno or House or Breakbeat; one of those anyway, I can never tell which is which and frankly I don't give a shit). The song itself is okay, with more than enough crashing guitar chords in the break to keep the interest up.

This is followed by Bidston Moss with a very chirpy new submission to the canon of girl vocal guitar pop, which wouldn't be out of place rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Clouds, Falling Joys, Hummingbirds and Pollyanna (but then I always have had difficulty telling any of their records apart, so who am I to say?).

Ah Skulker! Ballsy (sorry girls), slightly Devo-ish guitar riff intro leading into an extremely catchy power pop number, which sounds like the band were really enjoying themselves as they recorded it. I often find myself thinking of Skulker as a Nitocris that just wants to have fun.

Lustre 4, "Ma Hannah". Another light, jingly guitar band, formed by two graduates of the same High School as Nitocris, although they were a year ahead and managed not to get expelled from music class at any stage. Fairly orthodox girl pop, underpinned by some very silky harmonies. The Weight Watchers organisation might have something to say about the high sugar content though.

Look Blue Go Purple, "Cactus Cat". More sounds of Kiwi Pop, but this one is a ring in - an actual fifteen year old Flying Nun release. The band is now long defunct, but the song still sounds as fresh as it must have done the day it was recorded.

Semi-Gloss, "Eight Million Strong". The net's been cast pretty wide here: a New York quartet with only one female member, the improbably named Verena Wiesendanger. I guess it gives the collection an international flavour, but it's pretty disposable in this company.

Stella One Eleven, "Go Slow Girl". Isn't this the current single? It sure seems like I've heard this song more than just a few times recently. Very smooth, with the opening reminding me strongly of Noosha Fox without the speech impediment. They used to be rated an "indie" band (not that that term has meant anything for the best part of a decade), but some serious money is being spent on production when this band hits the studio these days, at least if this is any indication.

Fuzzy, "Dead End Day". Yeah, pleasant enough. Clean, poppy sound in a formulaic, almost Monkees manufactured kind of way. Nice harmonies.

Moler, "Used To Be". Much better, heaps more oomph. Good fuzz guitar buzz propelling snotty, scornful vocals, which deliver some slashing put downs through the deceptively simple lyrics.

Undergirl, "My Girl". What's this, some sort of adrenaline speed pop? Certainly churns along at a fair old pace; if it tried to go much faster, those ringing guitars would start to sound like ambulance sirens. Imagine being attacked by the GoGos after somebody switched their decaf for double espresso and you've probably got the picture.

Half Miler, "Married". From what I'd heard of this band, I was expecting something pretty crunchy, but this track is surprisingly... well, mellow.

Twelve24, "Jenny". Boy this singer's voice reminds me of someone, but I'll be buggered if I can pin down who it is. The style puts me in mind of the Go-Betweens doing Frente covers.

120 Mins, "Each Time". Syrupy pop, more Frente than Frente; this kind of gushing, breathless little girl voice doesn't do much for me.

Robyn St Clare, "Slow Slide Down". Dreamy, unleaded pop from the former Hummingbirds' bassist, though it's former Spdfgh bassist Tania Bowers who actually plays bass on this. Lovely, but I'm starting to have major withdrawal symptoms for lack of something harder...

Sunday, "Going Home". Even dreamier concoction from former Spdfgh bassist Tania Bowers, who in keeping with tradition has someone else actually playing bass on this track.

Alright, I know when I'm licked... all over. This CD also comes with a 32 page booklet that provides a comprehensive run down of the tracks, an essay by Kerrie Hickin on the joys and frustrations (but mainly frustrations) of being a female rock muso and, after invoking the name of Mo Tucker, even includes a collective interview with several of the drummers from these bands. Why drummers? Well, er, don't know, but once you get past the obligatory gender questions like "Do you avoid short skirts", they cover some interesting technical and musical issues (and I'm not just talking about "When you're pre-menstrual, do you hit harder?"; no really, it's question number 10).
- John McPharlin


Vermishus: Amaze Me; The Spinsters: Bad Pills; Nitocris: O.B.I.D.; Spdfgh: Wikky's Ode; Bidston Moss: Junior; Skulker: Hej; Lustre 4: Ma Hannah; Look Blue Go Purple: Cactus Cat; Semi-Gloss: Eight Million Strong; Stella One Eleven: Go Slow Girl; Fuzzy: Dead End Day; Moler: Used To Be; Undergirl: My Girl; Half Miler: Married; Twelve24: Jenny; 120 Mins: Each Time; Robyn St Clare: Slow Slide Down; Sunday: Going Home.