I suspect I'm not the only one who reviews all-girl rock bands with a higher-than-usual bout of optimism, a utopian belief that one day chicks can tip the profane masculine iceberg known as R'N'R -- but who also, when duly disappointed, applies as swift and sharp double-edged Kenzo sword. As a disclaimer, I'd like to say I began listening to this record in a key of "10". Anyone who's been privy to modern chick bands -- yes, 80% of which I believe royally suck -- still, without a doubt know the two stalwarts from the 2000s onwards are: The Donnas and the band under review, Sahara Hotnights. This year they've come out with their 6th, "self-titled" album, after having released only covers in 2009. My quip with these two bands is, however talented or resilient they've been, is that they've wavered musically by dabbling in too many styles, trying on various genres like prom dresses. The Donnas went from their days as safety-pin wearin' punks to Sheryl Crow wannabes, to now- a glossy, cock-rock, hair-metal image. WTF? While Sahara Hotnights haven't undergone nearly as drastic an image change, blanket marketing of their hits as "garage punk" vs. "80's radio pop" often left me in wonderment. But their super cool stage candour and Maria Andersson's powerful voice tended to make them the favourite of the pair.
This album certainly proves they cohere as a band, if not in a slightly more grown-up way. They can croon with the age-wisdom of blues devotees and chant joyfully like teenagers at a rally. Yet, as a complete entity, this album blows. Maybe I come with too high of expectations... but so much feels wrong. The song order, the monotonous lyrics, the flow and surprisingly, the lack of self-realization where their strengths lie. Then again, maybe I'm over-intellectualizing it and should retreat as a goofy geezer whose pants wet at any band sounding remotely like The Shangri-Las or Huggy Bear.
I mean, if SH wrote an album of songs as meaty and compact as "781", track seven, I wouldn't be complaining. Sure, it sounds like a throwback, but we've already discussed how these ladies have been successfully doing just that the last decade. It's straight, ballsy and to the fuckin' point and that's exactly what I want to hear.
Sometimes I feel talking about girls in rock is like talking about reverse discrimination in the workplace. To compensate for the lack of badly needed estrogen, some subconsciously devalue what would be harsh standards applied to the same music performed by dudes. Sahara Hotnights have all the potential in the world to change how we see music, and they undoubtedly know how to rock, but their latest [and last, so it seems -Ed.] shows the iconic album we dream for, still remains en route.
- Ann Sung-an Lee