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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Babes In Toyland: Painkillers


1) He's My Thing; 2) Laredo; 3) Istigkeit; 4) Ragweed; 5) Angel Hair; 6) Fontanellette.

The album cover explicitly suggests some trashy immediate link to Fontanelle, which there is: no­minally, this is an EP consisting of outtakes from the Fontanelle sessions (so the two relate to each other just like Spanking Machine related To Mother, pardon the involuntary rhyming), ex­cept that they also tack on a mini-live session — ʽFontanelletteʼ, recorded at CBGB's in April 1992, contains ten selections from Fontanelle squeezed inside one 34-minute track on the CD. Altogether, that makes up for a 50-minute listening experience, so the real meaning of the «EP» tag in this particular case is «Extra Pay» (for something quite superfluous).

The «original outtakes» are a rather confused bunch. There is a re-recording of ʽHe's My Thingʼ with somewhat better production than on the original, and with the same wildness level, but with­out any particularly reasonable point. There is ʽLaredoʼ, a fairly punchy riff-rocker with a fun «surf-grunge» lead line throughout; it could have made a good addition to Fontanelle, replacing one of its slower, more boring numbers. ʽIstigkeitʼ, however, is one of those slow, boring num­bers, whose ethereal falsetto harmonies are just enough out of tune to confirm that Bjelland should firmly stick to roaring, never «cooing». ʽAngel Hairʼ is a bunch of unmemorable noise, as uninspired and generic as they come.

Biggest surprise of the bunch is the obligatory Lori Barbero vocal spotlight — as usual, I was prepared for the worst, but ʽRagweedʼ is actually a surprise: alternating broken strings of notes and percussion blasts, over which Barbero, beatnik-style, flings brief recited sequences of words, followed by a fast-paced psychedelic section with buzzing intertwined guitars and a femme-fatale style, icy chorus. Throughout, Lori does not even try to sing, and it works — her spoken-word  «domina­trix» tone is far more convincing that way. Consequently, ʽRagweedʼ vies for attention with ʽLaredoʼ, first time in Barbero history.

The live performance boasts decent-quality recording and, since the songs are all fresh, genuine excitement at being able to donate the vibe to a small, hip New York crowd. But since the Babes never really hold it off in the studio, there is not much hope to see them get even wilder live — and meticulous comparison of the studio Fontanelle with the live ʽFontanelletteʼ is a sport that should be restricted only for the most loyal admirers of Kat Bjelland. At least they have the good sense not to play ʽQuiet Roomʼ — the live set omits most of the «moody» numbers, concentra­ting on rip-roar. And considering that the Babes would never have that much rip-roar again, it might seem nice to have this extra souvenir.

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