L7 were never really much of a riot grrrl band, no matter how many people tried to lump them into that category. Sure, their music had the same themes of female empowerment and sexuality, but the music is where things really differed. While they started with a more hardcore punk-tinged musical framework like their contemporaries, the 90s saw L7 enter a new phase with more metal and grunge influences. Suddenly, the band seemed closer to Alice in Chains and Melvins than they did to Bikini Kill or Bratmobile. Plus, let's face it: L7's focus was more on quality music than simply pushing a message to a male-dominated music scene... or at least there was more of a balance. These were ladies that not only clung closely to their feminist ideals, but made kickass albums in the process. Of course, their stage antics also played a part in their success during their 90s heyday. Guitarist/singer Donita Sparks was usually the main cause of the controversy, particularly in 1992; first she pulled down her pants during a performance on the British variety show The Word, and then she threw her tampon at the audience during the Reading Festival after the audience threw mud at the band. Her words were classic: "Eat my used tampon, fuckers!"
Needless to say, 1992 was the biggest year for this quartet. After the successful sophomore album Smell the Magic
, L7 decided to make their sound heavier and more sludgy for their breakthrough record Bricks Are Heavy
. Just as its popularity and acclaim might prove, this really is the band's finest recording; it has the best mixture of all the band's sounds and eras, as well as having the most diversity in its songwriting. Punk, heavy metal, and grunge are all given equal attention throughout, and so is every member for that matter. Just like with The Beatles or Queen, every member of L7 sings at some point on this album, three of the four members being featured prominently on lead vocals. This is, in part, why Bricks Are Heavy
works so well... the band always feels like a single unit. The guitar/guitar/bass/drums setup is quite standard, but everybody gets a chance to shine. Plus, the lack of flashy instrumentation actually works to this band's advantage because of this tight chemistry.
Consistency is easily this album's biggest strength. From the tight riffing of the punk-influenced "Wargasm" to the off-kilter 9/8-time playing of closer "This Ain't Pleasure," everything is where it should be. Each member who sings is also the writer of her own respective song as well, each having her own vocal and songwriting quirks. My personal favorite is bassist Jennifer Finch; her songs "Everglade" and power ballad "One More Thing" are two of the most inspired tunes on this thing, particularly the former with its instantly mosh-worthy main riff. Of course, the song that people remember the most from Bricks Are Heavy
is Donita Sparks' big hit "Pretend We're Dead." The song does provide a nice opportunity to relax after the one-two punch of "Wargasm" and "Scrap," this time focusing more on melody than outright heaviness.
Complementing all of this is a nice helping of tough and pissed-off vocals, definitely a more punk-inspired aspect of the band. Political issues ("Wargasm"), the aforementioned female empowerment ("Everglade," numerous others), freeloaders and lazy people (Suzi Gardner's anthem "Slide"), stress and anxiety ("One More Thing"), and other lyrical themes are addressed, all conveyed through very aggressive anthems that don't tend to hold these opinions back. But again, what makes it all work is how convincing the musicianship and songwriting are. No matter what side of each matter you sit on, you can always rely on the heavy and energetic musical accompaniments to keep the enjoyment going; this is certainly more than I can say of some of the riot grrrl bands I've heard. L7's presence and charisma on Bricks Are Heavy
are very rare for the grunge movement they were part of, and make each song a treat... even if not every song completely works.
The only (somewhat) glaring problem is that the album may be a little too
consistent. The music blends together occasionally, and the power chords and constant grungy distortion gets a bit old from time to time. But eventually this issue starts to leave you when you give the album repeated listens. Bricks Are Heavy
has an enormous amount of replay value... not just for the little nuances that may have been missed the first time around, but for just the sheer enjoyment of the each riff, each of Demetra Plakas' inspired drum fills, each of Suzi's fun solos, and just the overall creativity of each tune. If you're even remotely interested in grunge, punk, or metal music, Bricks Are Heavy
is almost essential. These angry no-nonsense babes are gonna kick your ass, but you'll want to keep getting back up and taking the punishment all over again.
-One More Thing
-Pretend We're Dead