Stretch Marks

Five years ago, Elastica frontgal Justine Frischmann brought us "Connection" and

"Stutter" — flashy, deliciously disposable stem cell replications of Wire and the

Buzzcocks — and, as she sang at the end of her group's eponymous debut,

she only wanted some "Vaseline" in return (i.e. nothing). Her wish list today, recited

poetry-slam style on The Menace's "My Sex" (RealAudio excerpt), is a lot more inviting, almost

homespun: "to kiss you until our lips are numb"; "a room with a three-bar fire"; "to

hear the rain against the window again." Is this what happens to tardy punk

formalists? They mutate into Lucinda Williams?

Sure. Only you should never expect modesty from a Brit without a catch.

Frischmann's desire for passionate kisses devolves into an extended bout of Eno-style ambience (not the only one on the album, either), allowing our minds to wander

away from her expressed desires, lest they can't be fulfilled. And given how this

cognitive clash between active and passive listening states is replicated not just

within tracks on The Menace but between them as well, she's wise in

suspecting they perhaps never will be fulfilled.

Simultaneously more tossed-off and expressive than 1995's Elastica album,

The Menace is a frustrating listen, oscillating between actively courting the

listener and fashioning a more tangential state somewhere between punk

momentum and wearisome breakdown.

Yes, it kicks off with a trio of rockers more bacchanalian than the group's previous

work, with a special rush from "How He Wrote Elastica Man," (RealAudio excerpt) a chaotic, Farfisa-laced

shouting match with the great Fall leader, Mark E. Smith, wherein he joins the band in

spelling out their name (perhaps in homage to the Fall's "C.R.E.E.P.") But even old

fans might not get past them to the clangy dirge or the folksy number or the "f--- you

for listening" finale — a cover of Trio's "Da Da Da." And they may stop listening

altogether when the ambient sounds take over on "Miami Nice," a track that sounds

like an outtake from the aforementioned Eno's Another Green World.

After failing myself at numerous attempts to welcome these flies in the ointment, I

decided it just wasn't going to happen. Indeed, it seems the irreconcilable impulses

that characterize the album are precisely what it is about. With teen pop and rap-metal capturing the zeitgeist, and micro-genres finding favor across the fragmented

listening landscape, Frischmann is probably wondering if there's even an audience

left to hear her. Maybe that's why she's trying all these forms of

communication (including ill communication).

Frischmann seems to acknowledge this difficulty in perceiving her album as a whole

when she sings "hold me with another hand" on the folksy "The Way I Like It." It's a

metaphor for how we're going to have to adjust our expectations in order to grasp

her new material. But the sad, beautiful tragedy of The Menace is that, in an

era where supply comically exceeds demand, potentially sympathetic listeners

already have both hands full.