Girl Group With A '90s Twist

They know that the girl-group ideology is more than a little dated -- mentioning milkshakes, drag racing and a boy named Johnny in the same song is not something you can do in 1998 without a little bit of a smirk

There's something to be said for brevity, especially when you've got a

limited aesthetic, and the Rondelles have the right idea. The fabulously

cheerful little rockers on this debut album come from three

first-name-only 19-year-olds who already have the stage-presence thing

down: Juliet slashing away at her guitar and singing blankly; Yukiko

doubling her parts on bass and pitching in with harmonies, looking like

she's about to burst into giggles; and Oakley playing high-end keyboards

at the same time as the drums. More than half an hour of their

spiffy bounce could get on the nerves, but Fiction Romance, Fast

Machines is over in barely 23 minutes -- and that's counting the

hidden bonus track.

All three Rondelles live in Albuquerque these days, though they grew up

in Arlington, Va., and pretty clearly spent some time in nearby

Washington, D.C. -- specifically, imprinting on Slant 6, the

single-minded punk trio that's a clear influence on the Rondelles'

unison barre-chord pounding and Juliet's affectless chant. But they've

also taken a lot from the classic girl-group pop of the early '60s,

especially in their lyrics, which are almost totally in the language of

the innocent, frustrated love song ("Before I met you yesterday/ I'd

never seen a face quite like yours before"); and their rhythms, which

are total Shangri-La's City, even if they're hidden under Juliet's

guitar crunch.

They know that the girl-group ideology is more than a little dated --

mentioning milkshakes, drag racing and a boy named Johnny in the same

song is not something you can do in 1998 without a little bit of a

smirk -- but, on the other hand, it's kind of novel right now to hear a

punk-raised band treating a man as a semi-inaccessible lust object. And

they've got another model for that, from a surprising quarter. "Fiction

romance, fast machines/ Get your face in a magazine," goes the line that

gives the album its name -- a series of references to the original

frustrated-lust punk-pop experts, the Buzzcocks, who recorded one early

song called "Fiction Romance" and another called "Fast Cars," and whose

original leader Howard Devoto went on to start the band Magazine.

Ultimately, Fiction Romance is exciting more because it's

promising than because the band is already great, in the same way that

the Buzzcocks' earliest recordings suggested what they ultimately

became. They haven't quite gotten the knack of playing together

smoothly. But the distance they've already come since the final three

tracks of the album (recorded on the cheap, a bit earlier than the rest)

hints that there won't be much longer to say "I knew them when."