Sunday, May 17, 2009

Babes in Toyland - Nemesisters

And so, we come to the final triumph. Although I had no idea at the time that this would be Babes in Toyland's last stand. That's a damned shame. But what a fantastic album to go out on.

I've reflected on this while writing these posts. To look back on your career, and know that all of your albums are good, that's a rare achievement. No bad albums? No mistakes? No baffling clunkers like Their Satanic Majesties Request or Self-Portrait? Good Lord, even Elvis Presley had his movies to embarrass him. Babes in Toyland have nothing to be embarrassed about. At the end of the day, they did everything they could. If the kids of the '90s couldn't figure it out, screw 'em. The kids of another decade will understand.

Nemesisters is clearly the most evolved form of the band, the most mature, the most complex. This is a band at the peak of its powers. And this is most definitely a band of equals. Kat Bjelland may have had the upper hand in experience at the beginning, but Lori and Maureen are equals in 1995. And you can hear it on these songs. "Sweet '69" is the best Babes in Toyland ever recorded, period.

You can argue for yourselves if Kat was making sex puns or singing about cars on that song, but it always seemed unlikely to me. She certainly had no problem with being blunt or explicit - have you listened to Fontanelle lately? Actually, Kat's lyrics on Nemesisters are loaded to the hilt with cheesy puns. "I will not follow stupid sheep/I will not bow, I will not peep." I always got a chuckle out of that one.

If there was any valid criticism to lay against the Babes, it's that Kat really didn't have much of anything to say aside from aggression. Bad relationships, childhood trauma, rivalries that may or may not involve Courtney Love - this was her lyrical bread and butter. The final album saw an honest attempt to grow out of this, but what exactly is Kat talking about? I honestly don't have a damned clue what half the Nemesisters songs are about, if anything. But I always tuned in for the music, the riffs, the drumming, the aggression. I didn't care.

But somebody really has to nail down Kat Bjelland for answers one of these years.

I think the Nemesisters cover is remarkable, definitely the "statement" cover of the library. I don't know if they're attacking stereotypes of women in general as much as themselves; this was one of the most polarizing rock bands of the 1990's, and their gender had a lot to do about that. There were many successful women in music that decade, but none as aggressive or extreme as Babes in Toyland. The Riot Grrl bands are the closest kin, but none were nearly as successful. This band came as closest as any of their peers to mainstream success.

Now, the waters have long since receeded. Women are back to playing Barbie dolls and models without minds and safe pop singers. Exceptions are rare, and the indie rock world is far too tame and safe. There's still this boundary where girls are not allowed to cross. It's like Baseball vs. Softball. Babes in Toyland came to play baseball and simultaneously rally and shout down all the girls playing softball. And they came the closest to actually succeeding.

I can't wait to see the next generation take the reins and push even further. Where is it written that there couldn't be an all-female answer to Metallica, or Radiohead, or U2? Why is everybody going to Simon Cowell and Paula Abdull for approval in the music game? Paula freaking Abdul? Has anybody actually YouTube'd her lousy pop songs? This is the standard for acceptance?

To hell with that. It's 2009, and I'm waiting for the women in rock to show up with a better album than Nemesisters. It hasn't happened yet, and I'm starting to wonder how many more years we'll have to wait.

Okay, that's it. The five Babes in Toyland studio albums. They were one of the great rock bands of my generation. Now get to work on the music revolution.


Anonymous said...

listening to that painkillers album i just downloaded, it sounds great. i'm not listening to the lyrics, just feeling them. the next revolution won't just be musical, but hopefully it'll spur some new sounds incidentally

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Yeah, I'm hearing that. It's a great album by a great band. Be sure to share with all your friends. I wanna see the next generation of riot grrl bands - times are ripe for the takeover.

Thanks for visiting my blogs.