Everything in music seems to be so wack lately. Courtney Love hit
Hollywood, No Doubt made ska the soft rock of '96, and I swear I read in
Time magazine that alternative music is now officially dead. These
and other anomalies seem to be indicative of the inevitable breakdown of
the pretense of a widespread alternative genre. Veruca Salt seem to have
picked up on the vibe, and usher in '97 with a sophomore album that defies
all alternatives and presents itself as what is sure to become a bone fide
classic rock album. The album, their second LP ( they released the EP
"Blow It Out Your Ass, Its Veruca Salt", in April 1996 ) is titled
Eight Arms To Hold You, a reference to the working title of the
Beatles film Help!
As a member of the 18-and-under age group I see this as an album to play
for your parents when they want to see "what the kids are listening to
these days." It's metal enough to make them nervous, while still sounding
familiar enough to make them feel young. And there's nothing wrong with
The album opener, a screamer entitled "Straight", is a rerecorded version
of a b-side originally accompanying the "Number One Blind" single from
their first album, American Thighs. Personally, I prefer the rawer
sound of the BBC Studios recording, but the album version has its good
points too, and there's no doubt that the song rocks. The new vocals are
quite intriguing, somehow they manage to sound smooth and strained at the
same time. Louise Post, the lead guitarist, who shares lead vocal duties
with Nina Gordon also on guitar, has grown considerably as a guitarist.
After a dramatic pause in "Straight" she breaks into a short but memorable
solo, leading the vocals back in true rock fashion. Also notable is her
solo work on the prospective single "Volcano Girls"- almost Van Halen-ish
"Volcano Girls" is another rock-a-minute song. Following the
cymbal-vocal-guitar- second-guitar-rock invasion intro, the Salt craft
another winner. The lyrics seem to be similar in theme to their 1994 Top
Ten hit "Seether." The song talks about repressed anger taking over and
coming out, only this time the anger is tempered with acceptance,
"Volcano girls, we really can't be beat/ Wanna suffer, watch us blow/ Now
and then, we fail and we admit defeat" The vocals are effervescent
harmonies and the song is not without humour. During a cool bridge-type
interlude they play the guitar part from "Seether", singing over it a new
vocal line: "Told you 'bout the Seether before/ you know the one who's
neither or nor/ well, here's another clue if you please/ the Seether's
Louise . . . one two three raaaouwr!"
Again going against "alternative-lyric" norms, "Awesome" deals with the
success the band enjoyed after the release of their first album. A bass
driven tune, the lyrics express the bewilderment and wonder the band felt
after the tremendous success of their debut, which went gold in the United
States: "There's something in the unity/ What's coming over me?/ Oh no,
fuck humility,/ We're awesome, awesome,/ All our songs good, I know its
so/ Awesome, awesome,/ Everybody, I know, I know, its a fine place to be"
On paper, it might look a little arrogant, but it seems a far more natural
and less annoying reaction to success then the contrived, self-induced
dejection that most successful "alternative" acts cop these days. Veruca
Salt put out a fine debut album, had a successful tour and somehow figured
out that they don't suck. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Track six on the album is a poppy, hand clap-enhanced tribute to The Thin
White Duke called "With David Bowie". The song starts with a very nice
riff and uses phrases like "you betcha." To continue the parallels with
songs on the first album, "With David Bowie" is about being inspired by
listening to one's walkman, and its counterpart on the first album,
"Victrola" dealt with the attachment one might feel to one's stereo. Nina
and Louise seem to have consistent themes in their lyrics, an attribute
that works for them for the most part, as the words always come out
enthusiastic and sincerity. "Fallin' in love, my walkman and me,/ with
David Bowie./ You want me to sing,/ I can, I can./ You want me to play,/ I
can, I can./ Wanna be in a band?'/ I can, I'll never be anything more
than/ what's today what's today yeah!"
This inspirational thought is quickly followed by the undisputed ballad of
the album, "Benjamin", and another rocker, "Shutterbug." Veruca Salt seem
to be much more familiar with the studio this time round. They employ,
along with producer Bob Rock (Metallica) a multitude of guitar and vocal
tricks. The dubbed and effect laden guitars account for the metal sound of
some of the songs and the more developed sound of others. This aspect,
paired with the lilty vocals produces an effective combination.
The album closes with an interesting pair of songs, "Venus Man Trap" and
"Earthcrosser". "Venus Man Trap" is a grinding love song of sorts, with
the line "Waiting for an opportunity to strike I have been your biggest
fan./ What a tour, a little blow to cure your fright,/ That's what it
takes to trap a man."
The backup vocals on this track make it one of the most unusual and
notable songs on the album. Rhythmically placed "woohoos", they add a
punchy harmony to the song. "Earthcrosser" begins quietly with a slide
guitar riff and whisper-sung vocals: "Am I clean? sleep . . ./ Feel like
men, feel like boys,/ I think I'm peeling . . ./ And it rings in my ears,/
From playing to loud./ I hear the ocean, I hear the crowd/ Disconnected, I
am unattached,/ Unmade bed makes me feel like a failure."
The song then crashes down with waves of sound, creating an epic of soft
and loud. I think this song is about the exhaustion and constant exertion
required by touring. My favourite song on the album, it expresses its
sentiment without bitterness. The dynamics of the song mirror the cycle of
exhaustion and elation that comes with playing live. When the song swells
it envelops everything.
Veruca Salt have made a fairly all-encompassing second album. It stretches
the boundaries of rock, past alternative and metal and pop, into a new but
old category- classic. And there's nothing wrong with that.