Bikini Kill Finally Gonna Have Their Say

Reject All American is Bikini Kill's most accessible release to

date. That's not to say that it's particularly easy to get a copy of; I

had to brave four Cambridge record stores before I finally found one in

the HMV megastore (God bless the corporate world.) Rather, it's

accessible in the sense that it's songs cover a wide variety

of styles, ranging from the classic BK punkouts to soft ballads to catchy

girl-group pop--but all are still delivered in typical kick-ass Bikini

Kill manner.

In the transition from punk to pop, BK has lost none of the edge and

emotion that is so central to their sound. On the contrary, the

effectiveness of Kathleen Hanna's words is only increased by the

variation in style. "R.I.P.", one of the albums ballads, is a

memorial to a friend who died of an AIDS-related illness and is without a

doubt the saddest and most touching song I have ever heard.

Hanna begins by acknowledging the limitations of the tribute: "I can't

say everything about it/In just one single song/I can't put how I feel in

package/And sell it back to everyone." It is powerful in its documentation

of the emotional struggle that accompanies the loss of a friend. Hanna's

sincerity as she sings "Its not fair/Its not fair/Its not

fair" prevent the words from becoming cliched, and evokes the deep

helplessness and frustration and sense of the true injustice of the world.

And in this society, where we are taught from such an early age to just

move on and not to make a fuss, that to be good is to be quiet, Hanna

speaks for us all when she says:

"Don't tell me it don't matter

Don't tell me it don't matter

Don't tell me I've had three days to get over it

It won't go away

It just won't go away"

A driving force throughout Reject All American is the drumming of

Tobi Vail, who also steps up to the mic for two songs, handling the lead

vocals for "Distinct Complicity" and "For Only", and sharing lead with

Hanna on "False Start". A rocking drum intro starts off "No Backrub" one

of the album's punk attacks and continues through the song to

push out the punk.

In "For Only", a mellower tune, Vail's vocals are drawly and gentle as she

sings about her recollections of the past and the reality of the present.

Based around a strong bass line "For Only" is the most studio and cleanest

song on the album with melodic, undistorted guitars and a backing horn

section.

Hanna confronts the stereotypes and labels that have been placed on girls

by the media in "Tony Randall". She is justified in her attack

as the media has so overtly taken the title of "riot grrl" and twisted it

into just another glorified sterotype with which to confine and

manipulate. Hanna has long been identified as one of rock's foremost "riot

grrls", a label that has worked both for and against her, but is a label

nonetheless. In "Tony Randall" she rejects the media's

attempt to capitalize on the riot grrl image: "Robotic nation/ False

history spit out/ another picture of a girl with a gun to bore me/ Cartoon

girl/ Hallmark Card/ I see a punk bar/ He sees a strip club."

But the media can't capture everything and she ends the song by reassuring

herself that "Some things can't be photographed."

The title track is an excellent example of Bikini Kill's acute pop

sensibility liberally mixed with Hanna's characteristically biting lyrics:

"Gets good grades and plays guitar/ thinks he's cool but really is not."

One of the most striking things about Hanna's vocals, which are

undoubtably Bikini Kill's strong point, is the fact that they're so

refreshingly unpretentious. If there's angst in her words, it's

justified. Bikini Kill's music is definitely without the

hollow whine strained out by most tortured artists today. Hanna states

things as they are: life isn't fair and oppression is real, but so are

hope and empowerment. And the album is not without humor. It closes with

the band singing with gleeful irony:

"We're the girls with the bad reputations

We're the girls gonna make you pay

We're the girls with the bad reputations

We are gonna have our say"

No fault can be found in Bikini Kill's graceful transition from the lo-fi

feel of 1993's Pussy Whipped to the tight pop-punk of Reject All

American. They emerge intact and rocking. Perhaps due to some of the

more radio-friendly songs on this album, Bikini Kill will achieve a more

mainstream audience. While most indie-punkers might view this as a bad

thing I can only see it as beneficial. With Reject All American,

Bikini Kill have proven that they are not going to lose their edge despite

their shift in style. Throughout the album their message remains clear

and unwavering. Sure their current fans get it, but isn't it the

mainstream audience that most needs to hear?