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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Babes In Toyland: Nemesisters


1) Hello; 2) Oh Yeah!; 3) Drivin'; 4) Sweet '69; 5) Surd; 6) 22; 7) Ariel; 8) Killer On The Road; 9) Middle Man; 10) Memory; 11) S.F.W.; 12) All By Myself; 13) Deep Song; 14) We Are Family.

By 1995, Babes In Toyland had nothing much left to say — which should come as no surprise for those who think they had nothing to say in the first place, and as a piece of sad news for those who think the band did have growth potential. But in what direction? They never wrote great me­lodies, they were sloppy instrumentalists, and their inventiveness in the studio never took them beyond simple echo effects and extra fuzz. So where to now, St. Peter?

To a slow, boring, painfully drawn out failure, that's where. The album title is a funny haplology, the album cover looks like something right out of the hair metal years (Ozzy must have loved it), but the music, for the most part, is as dull as the opening track — ʽHelloʼ is an uneducated Sonic Youth parody, and any respect I have for the scenic image of Kat Bjelland is severely undercut by her trying to introduce «atmospherics», «subtlety», and «modern rock intellectualism» into the picture. What she can do is rev us up by screaming and roaring at the top of her lungs while chug­ging out simple, fast-moving grunge riffs. And on Nemesisters, the longest of all Babes albums, there are only two songs that move in that direction — ʽOh Yeah!ʼ and ʽSweet '69ʼ — and only ʽSweet '69ʼ moves far enough, with a Stooges-derived riff as generic as they come, but it is the crunch that matters, not the chords.

Most of the other songs just drone along — sometimes with a psychedelic effect (ʽSurdʼ), some­times bordering on stoner metal (ʽDrivin'ʼ, essentially a repetitive instrumental with a «sublimi­nal message» in the background), sometimes trying to experiment with tricky time signatures (Lori Barbero goes for some unusual polyrhythms on ʽMemoryʼ — not that it matters much), but these are nuances: the band is so inexperienced in all these matters anyway that it all merges together in one big bowl of tiresome slop.

If the bulk of the album does not spell out «f-a-i-l-u-r-e» clearly enough for you, the final three tracks will have to do the job: three «deconstructivist» covers of songs that one might only asso­ciate with the usual likes of Babes In Toyland in a nightmare: Eric Carmen's sentimental ballad ʽAll By Myselfʼ, the old vocal jazz chestnut ʽDeep Songʼ (Billie Holiday, etc.), and the old Sister Sledge disco anthem ʽWe Are Familyʼ. The ballad, drowned in a sea of fuzzy power chords and deep-throaty roar, is unlistenable (not that it was all that listenable in its original version, but this rendition does not even have the stark novelty value of a Sid Vicious doing ʽMy Wayʼ). The jazz number is sung by Lori Barbero (who cannot sing) a cappella (so that you wouldn't have the slightest doubt that she cannot sing); I will refrain from describing the aural consequences.

Only the Sister Sledge cover, with a funny electric piano part distilling the guitar noise, manages to be modestly entertaining — ironic as it is to hear them all joining in a chorus of "we are family, I got all my sisters with me", considering how much time was left for the band to live — but it may simply sound refreshing and relaxing after the aural horrors we have just had to experience. Besides, it is impossible to get the point of having it here without knowing about the original — and if you care at all for the original (which was, after all, one of the high points of «B-level dis­co» back in the day), there is no reason to care about the «deconstruction».

Basically, you can almost see the album talk back at the ladies — telling them to pack it in and call it a day, because they have ran out of gas to create another Spanking Machine, and the tank ain't strong enough to hold higher quality fuel. For instructive purposes, Nemesisters may be worth a listen, but it is more likely that Kat Bjelland will go down in history as the breathtaking, hysterical, aggressive little blonde banshee of ʽHe's My Thingʼ than as the scruffy, capricious, annoying ghostly zombie of ʽHelloʼ or ʽSurdʼ. Not to mention that she is a heck of a lot more en­tertaining and amusing as the former than as the latter. Thumbs down — as the Babes say their goodbyes to Toyland and move out to Adult Droneland, I'd rather prefer to stay behind.

Check "Nemesisters" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Nemesisters" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. I kinda like Sweet 69. You know, it has a riff (actually two; the second one has the same rhythical pattern set on the first three notes of Smoke on the Water). No matter how generic and primitive, it's better than just a sequence of power chords. It also helps that the drummer goes quite frantic. That's also why We are Family works relatively best from the three covers.
    All by Myself lasts too long. Bjelland by far doesn't scream enough and certainly doesn't sound mean; her falsetto is the funniest part. The guitars are nicely out of tune, but that's only enough for a few seconds.
    It's quite simple. If you want to express aggression, whether it's in 50's rock'n'roll, 60's britbeat, 70's hardrock, punk or metal, you must try to annihilate your gear. If you don't you'll sound like good lads/girls.

  2. Oh dear. Humorous review, but you forgot to mention that "Ariel" is one of the best and most crushing Babes songs in their discography. Maybe just don't review bands that you already know you don't like? This record really isn't *that* bad, mate.