Penelope Houston Delivers Expressive Tongue

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong guests on new rock-oriented album from former Avengers singer.

After golfer Tiger Woods captured the nation's attention, it was only a

matter of time before someone invoked him in song. Now, singer/songwriter

Penelope Houston has weighed in with

"The Ballad of Happy Friday and Tiger Woods" (RealAudio excerpt) on her

latest solo album, Tongue.

But Houston said it was the young sportsman's memorable name, not his

achievements on the links, that inspired her when she wrote the song.

"My dad had a stroke a couple years ago, and I went to visit him, and I

decided to make up this story about a person who was in a rehabilitation

clinic," Houston said. "They're in this world where their physicality is

completely out of their control, and there was all this outside influence,

people saying, 'Open your eyes,' 'Swallow this pill,' 'Eat this food.' "

In the yearning song, one of 14 cuts from the intense, recently released

Tongue, Happy Friday is the character in rehab who escapes her

medical problems by daydreaming of a love affair with the handsome Woods.

"The physical reality was too terrible for her to stay in, so she

created this much more lovely psychological reality," Houston said.

While her own situation is nowhere near as dramatic, Houston, 40, goes

through reality changes of a sort on the new album.

Houston is the former lead singer of the groundbreaking San Francisco

punk group the Avengers. When they broke up in 1979, Houston eventually

fashioned a solo career grounded largely in acoustic music with such

albums as The Whole World (1993) and Cut You (1996).

But with Tongue, she carves out a more aggressive sound with

electric and electronic instruments. Tracks such as the album-opening

"Grand Prix" pair sensual lyrics with a sinewy dance-rock beat. The

title cut bears the marks of pop's recent flirtations with hip-hop while

offering up seductive, psycho-sexual lyrics that call to mind

the more racy efforts of Prince and Madonna.

Houston said it's only appropriate the new album was released just a

month after ... Died for Your Sins, a new album of rare and

unissued cuts by the Avengers.

"I think Tongue is more intense than the work I've been doing in

the past," she said. "It's certainly louder and probably more expressive

or angrier sounding than anything I've done since the Avengers."

Although her tenure in the Avengers was a mere two years with scant few

releases, Houston's influence as a punk-rock frontwoman was far-reaching,

according to Molly Neuman, general manager for Lookout Records -- the

label that released ... Died for Your Sins.

"The singing is so powerful, and the commentary was sophisticated," said

Neuman, a musician herself with post-punk bands the Peechees and

Bratmobile.

That sort of regard pulled in new- and old-school guests for Houston's

new album. Tongue features vocals and guitar from longtime friends

Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's, a band whose early

days included at least one opening gig for the Avengers. Also onboard is

singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet, onetime Green On Red guitarist.

Representing the new school are Joel Reader, bassist for San Francisco

Bay Area punks the Mr. T Experience, and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong,

who has written some as-yet-unreleased songs with Houston.

"I listened to [Armstrong's] records and I decided he was an excellent

melody writer, and I love the harmonies," Houston said. "He's really a

pop songwriter who's performing in a punk style."

Reader was barely born when the Avengers were being conceived. For him,

recording with Houston was a chance to play with a local legend as well

as to learn material more subtle than Mr. T's pop-punk.

"It was more important for the bass to create a groove and be in the

pocket, so it was a whole different feel," Reader said. "It had to be a

little behind the beat to give it a laid-back feel. I learned how to be

restrained. It was a learning experience. It's a whole different animal."

Such provocative new songs as "Worm" (RealAudio excerpt)

should appeal to veteran Houston fans and those attracted by her new

punk connections -- listeners who can appreciate the fervor of lyrics

such as, "Now I'm harder than a rock/ Now I'm colder than the ice on

your freezing cold cock ... Now I'm blackened by the night/

You don't even say my name unless you want to fight."

"That's a song about feeling low and knowing that somebody used to want

to make you feel really good," Houston explained. "It's about blaming

someone else for the way you feel, which is not the right thing to do.

"Of course my husband thinks it's about him. But it's not word-for-word

about him -- OK, it's possibly inspired by him," she said with a laugh.