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.