L7

Smell The Magic
Bricks Are Heavy
Hungry For Stink
The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum


Smell The Magic (Sub Pop ’90, '91) Rating: A-
After the band's self-titled debut LP (for big fans only), L7 came roaring back with this EP, a notable step up in class that was expanded from 6 to 9 songs on the 1991 reissue, with the total time still coming in at just under 30 minutes. The album has all the band's trademarks, namely big grinding riffs, grungy rhythms, nasty yet campy vocals that are often shouted come chorus time, and some short but tasty guitar solos. What's lacking about the album is the overall sound quality and a lack of diversity, but when a band kicks ass as relentlessly as L7 these are minor quibbles. "Shove" immediately sets the aggressive, in your face tone ("get out of my way or I might shove"), and the awe-inspiring "Fast and Frightening" is even better; though its graphic lyrics ("got so much clit she don't need no balls") may make some feel uncomfortable, I'm too busy rocking out to it to really care. "Deathwish" is a catchy party-'till-you-die anti-anthem, and "(Right On) Thru" and "'Till The Wheels Fall Off" also rock righteously if not as memorably (love the brief back and forth guitar duel on the latter in particular). "Broomstick" is another attitude soaked rocker, albeit one that shows off the group's sense of humor, and among the mostly merely good bonus tracks, the punkish "Just Like Me" is the clear standout.

Bricks Are Heavy (Slash ’92) Rating: A-
Riot grrrls, chicks that rock, whatever. Girls that play distorted guitars and turn the volume up to 11 shouldn’t be such a big deal, and I wished that more females would follow the lead of the underrated L7, who are perhaps best remembered today for throwing a dirty tampon into the crowd at a large festival concert. Anyway, big menacing riffs rule the day here, which quite frankly is how it should be. L7 don’t look or sing particularly pretty, but their grinding guitar riffs rock righteously (and loudly), and they even come up with some catchy choruses (particularly on “Pretend We’re Dead,” a minor MTV hit) that remind me of Joan Jett, the original riot grrrl. Feminine concerns such as “my diet pill has worn off” are told (or screamed) straightforwardly amid the churning rhythms, but the lyrics are secondary to the group’s aggressively groovy guitar onslaught. There’s nothing original here, just 11 slices of no bullshit heavy metal with crunchy riffs and pounding grooves throughout; the fact that grrrls (last time, I promise) are behind such a paint peeling attack just makes it that much cooler. Even silly lyrics such as “you bring out the monster in me” or “you make my shitlist” connect on a ghoulishly campy level, and this consistently entertaining album is where the band graduated from Sub Pop sub-production to the cleaner dynamics of Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins), who accentuates their headbanging core on what's probably their best album.

Hungry For Stink (Slash/Reprise ’94) Rating: A-
Nothing new from our group of fearless young ladies, just another great blast of ‘90s feminist hard rock. The fact is that most male metal groups would cringe in the face of the mighty L7 assault, which again features a simple but killer guitar grind up front and center. Lean and mean, the blaring guitars are aided by the voice of Donita Sparks (note: Suzy Gardener and Jennifer Finch also sing), one of rock music’s most awe-inspiring screechers. She’s one angry young woman, at herself (“Question My Sanity”) and at others (samples: “people like you just fuel my fire,” “in her head, she has eyes that were made for lying”), and her vicious points come across loudly, if not always clearly. The songwriting doesn’t quite match Bricks Are Heavy, since some of the songs are nothing more than repeated riffs or catchphrases, but when L7 matches their awesome sound with fully developed ideas (“Andres,” “The Bomb,” “Fuel My Fire,” "Talk Box") the band is damn near unstoppable. Most critics called this album a big comedown from its predecessor, but I think it’s more of the same, really (except the mix is dirtier, which fits), and damn fine within its chosen parameters. Relentless grooves again heavily carry the day, marking L7 as a consistently creative force you don’t wanna mess with.

The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum (Warner Bros. ’97) Rating: B
L7 try to grow here by at times slowing down their attack and diversifying their songwriting. However, the fact of the matter is that songwriting always came secondary to the band’s unmerciful riff attack and rhythmic grind (perhaps lessened here by bassist Jennifer Finch leaving the band to attend college), and what they had to say always mattered far less than the pummeling way in which they said it. Truth is, the slicker sound presented here hits with far less force than on either Bricks Are Heavy or Hungry For Stink, two of the past decade’s better heavy metal albums. And though on this more subdued album the band gamely attempts to show artistic growth, in reality they’re going away from the strengths that had made them so much fun. Also, though some clever lyrics stick out (“the only friends I’ve got left are my idiosyncrasies”), the shallow (if humorous) lyrics to songs with titles such as “Off The Wagon” and “The Masses Are Asses” (hey, the truth hurts) aren’t likely to win the band any new friends. The album certainly has its moments (“Drama,” “I Need,” “Moonshine” and “Non-Existent Patricia,” for example), often best expressed by a surprising vocal hook or a poppy chorus, but there are fewer riffs that really stick out this time around, though this is still a solid and generally heavy album overall. P.S. L7 released one more inessential album, Slap-Happy in 1999 before going on an (according to their Web site) "indefinite hiatus" that has yet to be interrupted.


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