Pussy Whipped | EW.com

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Pussy Whipped Even if you don't read fanzines or buy independent-label releases, the riot- grrrl scene bubbling up around the country and in Britain isn't difficult to...Pussy WhippedIndie Rock, Rock Even if you don't read fanzines or buy independent-label releases, the riot- grrrl scene bubbling up around the country and in Britain isn't difficult to...1994-01-28
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Pussy Whipped

Genre: Indie Rock, Rock

Even if you don’t read fanzines or buy independent-label releases, the riot- grrrl scene bubbling up around the country and in Britain isn’t difficult to understand. Basically, it amounts to young women forming bands and discovering punk rock. Those bands-with names like Huggy Bear, Bikini Kill, 7 Year Bitch and Bratmobile-are militant in nearly every way: musically (punk at its crudest and most garage-band-inspired), lyrically (feminist-minded songs with titles like ”Dead Men Don’t Rape”), and otherwise (they frown on the mass media). The phrase riot grrrls, with the multiple r’s signifying rage, originated as the name of a fanzine in 1991 in Olympia, Wash. Riot grrrls aren’t the first women to lead bands or play instruments: Check out, for instance, DGC’s new reissue of the eponymous 1979 debut album of the Raincoats, a British proto-riot-grrrl band. But as alternative rock grows ever so macho, the grrrls’ on-our-own-terms philosophy is at the very least a welcome respite from guy bands with long hair, loud guitars, and shirtless torsos. Still, it’s one thing to get in touch with your anger and express it, as riot grrrls do. It’s another to shape that rage into good music, as anyone who has tried plowing through an entire album by Hole or Babes in Toyland already knows. No amount of unmelodic screeching and clunky musicianship can hide the fact that their music often falls short of the basics-compelling singing, inventive songwriting, stuff like that. Besides, what’s so revolutionary about crude, old-fangled punk in the ’90s, anyway? In the hands of Bikini Kill, plenty. Take ”Rebel Girl,” a highlight of their first full-length album, Pussy Whipped (Kill Rock Stars). In some ways the song is utterly conventional, from its introductory kickoff drumming to its punky bass line and lead singer Kathleen Hanna’s exclamation that her friend is ”the queen of the neighborhood!” We’ve heard all these elements before, in rock songs too numerous to mention. Yet it has been a long time since an all-woman rock band sounded this unaffected-in other words, Bikini Kill simply, to spout another cliche, rocks out. (The band does include one male member, guitarist Billy Karren.) When it swings into the chorus, Hanna sings ”Rebel girl/You are the queen of mah world!!” with one of the most impassioned wails in recent years. With the possible exception of L7’s more commercial ”Pretend We’re Dead,” ”Rebel Girl” may be the first riot-grrrl anthem. Pussy Whipped, the first great riot-grrrl album, has plenty of moments like that. As with many of its peers, Bikini Kill sticks to throbbing bass lines, breakneck-speed drumming, crude production, and songs that, in true punk tradition, average about two minutes each. Unlike other grrrls, though, they know something about tight song structures, and Hanna doesn’t just scream. She can taunt, mock, and blare with the best of them (”These are my ruby red lips/The better to suck you dry”). At other moments, though, she can sound as girl-group poppy as a younger, angrier Belinda Carlisle. The hormones driving the songs are hard to pin down-exactly how enamored is Hanna of that ”rebel girl,” after all? But that mystery lends the music an extra charge, as if Hanna, bassist-singer Kathi Wilcox, and drummer Tobi Vail are exploring their own sexuality at the same time they’re learning to play their instruments. Bikini Kill could be dismissed as a one-trick pnnny if it weren’t for two things. First is Pussy Whipped’s final song, an unexpectedly gentle, tender gay love song, ”For Tammy Rae,” that hints at deeper, and more varied, moments to come. ”Past the billboards and the magazines,” sings Hanna, sounding wistful and tender, ”I dream about being with you.” And, after it recorded Pussy Whipped, the band went into the studio with producer and riot-grrrl founding mommm Joan Jett. The result is a new three-song single, including a beefed-up remake of ”Rebel Girl,” that shows how much potential this band has, especially with a few extra recording-studio dollars. Otherwise, the future of the riot-grrrl scene is too iffy to call. Will it burn out like so much punk before it, or will these bands develop beyond fringe status? Britain’s Huggy Bear, known for performing at no-men-allowed shows, finally has an album available in this country, Taking the Rough With the Smooch (also on Kill Rock Stars). It has its moments-like the nearly metallic ”Herjazz”-but in general seems too ragged. In the States, Hole’s second album, due this spring, should determine whether the charismatic Love is just a poseur. In the meantime, there certainly is a riot goin’ on, and adventurous listeners are advised to join the fray. A-