Warning: contains more profanity than usual. Dig it.
Women? bit of a mystery to me mate. I mean they make lovely mothers and are dead good at cleaning stuff, but they just get so angry. Tut, tut. It’s probably all to do with, well, their you-know-whats and stuff.
Angriest of all? in my collection at least*, Babes In Toyland Fontanelle, one of my go-to really really really pissed off LPs. dating from ’92 I owned various taped copies and picked up a neat red vinyl copy in Chester in 1998.
It starts as it goes on, brilliantly, with ‘Bruise Violet’ – a fabulous sneering blast of, a blast of what? spite, rage, vacancy and sexiness. It’s such a loud song, even at low volume – if that makes any sense to you. It gives you most of Babes in Toyland’s qualities in one swift kick to the solar plexus. Kat Bjelland is just incredible, her guitar sound is just immense and her vocals – wow! She veers between from screaming, sneering, dead-eyed monotone and cooing, often all within a single line. It sounds like all your worst playground nightmares rolled into one. In ‘Bruise Violet’ the band aren’t being very nice about someone, rumoured to be Courtney Love** at the time and later denied by the band. What an opener!
Second track ‘Right Now’ is another fave of mine, whispered semi-verses, screamed ‘Right Now!!!’ bits, a bit of guitar and bass that sounds like something the Ruts might have done and then lots more shouting. ‘Bluebell’ features the great line, ‘I know you’re right / Everything you do is right / Everything I do is … true’, okay so typing it out doesn’t do it justice at all – you need to hear Kat sing it.
The other great thing about Babes in Toyland, that never seems to get mentioned is the rhythm section of Lori Barbero and Maureen Herman. They’re really interesting, in most of the tracks here they play in a very loose fashion and by that I mean they play with real elasticity, changing tempo at the drop of a hat to match the demands of Kat’s guitar and vocals. If I’ve made it sound like they can’t keep time that’s really not what I mean, they’re really flexible players and in the context of each song and Fontanelle it just works brilliantly.
I won’t give you the whole tedious track-by-track run down, just pick out a couple of other highlights for your delectation. My favourite track on the LP is ‘Handsome & Gretel’ a song so angry and mean it blew my angrymeanometer apart the first time I heard it. It was also rumoured to be about Courtney Love I vaguely remember, it’s not a song I would want to be about me. The main riff is incredible on this track, probably the closest they get to more conventional grunge and/or metal, but again it’s the vocals that knock me backwards, particularly the bits where she lurches from anger to monotone and back again. Plus there’s the swearing.
Oh yes. For a connoisseur of profanity such as myself there’s a lot to savour on Fontanelle. Whether it’s the ‘fucking bitch’ s sprinkled liberally throughout, or the more targeted (Gretel), ‘You fucking bitch you c*nt hole bitch’, or my favourite ‘You’re dead meat motherfucker / You don’t try to rape a Goddess’ (Bluebell). You get a lot of profanity for your money here.
Don’t let me fool you into thinking there’s no light and shade here, that Fontanelle is all sturm and drang, it’s not. There’s a good few bits of sly wordplay here and there (He flies through the air with the greatest disease / takes little pills and calls them trapeze – Bluebell (again!)) and once you get your ears in and accustomed to what’s going on beneath the headline news on the LP, there’s a lot more going on musically than is apparent at a first listen. I’m particularly taken with the gentle instrumental ‘Quiet Room’ which opens the second side, it could almost be an off-cut from Led Zep’s Presence – it also sets up the creepy psychosis of the next track, ‘Spun’, a treat.
Most reviews of Fontanelle describe it as primal and I’m struggling to think of a more original way to describe it. I can’t. This is a really primal LP, almost a primal scream^ of a record, none more so than on the last pair of tracks, ‘Mother’ (what is it with chicks and their mums? sort it out, womankind!) and ‘Gone’ which just seems to involve Kat playing guitar along to the sound of smashing glass. Heavy, no wonder no lesser authorities than Beavis and Butthead described Babes in Toyland as ‘scary, cool chicks’.
Yeah this is a great, great LP and I really regret passing up the chance to see them live on the tour for Fontanelle. Oh well, maybe that’s precisely the sort of thing us men shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about.
P.S – as a big fan of her photography I’m annoyed that I hadn’t noticed that Cindy Sherman took the cover picture, until I read it just now.
I know the track below isn’t from Fontanelle, but there’s a real paucity of their stuff on Spotify and it’s a brilliant, brilliant track.
*I’m strategically ignoring the LPs I own by Huggy Bear, Voodoo Queens and Bikini Kill here for the sake of this post; now pretend you haven’t read this. 3-2-1-gone.
**very briefly a member of Babes In Toyland before finding her own route to infamy.
^as in the psychotherapy technique (Janov was it?), not as in Bobby Gillespie’s troupe.