Review Summary: One hell of a way to start.
If you haven't listened to L7, I can't blame you. They were one of the many rock acts of the 90s who had one or two big hits and then fell off the face of the map. For these rock/metal babes, that song was "Pretend We're Dead," one of the finest anthems of apathy and alternative coolness that came out around then. There could have been worse L7 songs to get so popular, but as with many bands who only have a few major hits, the track doesn't really represent every side of the band. If I told you that L7 was a huge influence to the punk-based riot grrrl movement and you only had the slow grungy riffage of "Pretend We're Dead" as proof, you probably wouldn't believe that statement. No, at the core, L7 are really punk rockers. They came out of the L.A. punk scene (even guesting on Bad Religion's Suffer
!) and their early work definitely reflects this. While everything they did from Smell the Magic
onward marked a transition from punk to straight-up metal, their debut album is pretty much a full-fledged punk album.
Right off the bat, one of the most impressive things about L7
is the band's chemistry. Drummer Dee Plakas wasn't on this recording, being preceded by Roy Koutsky for this release, but the rest of the line-up are perfectly matched as they blaze through each track. As is typical for many classic and hardcore punk albums, many of the songs on here are short bursts of energy that, despite their length, still leave quite an impression. One listen to the Suzi Gardner-written "Bite the Wax Tadpole" shows just how intense and energetic this band were in their early years. The screaming from Gardner and Donita Sparks is bloodcurdling as it combines with hard-hitting riffs and much faster speeds than in the band's later material. There are some notable exceptions to this, such as the slow-building and lengthy "Uncle Bob" or the more vocally seductive and grunge-inspired "Snake Handler," but for the most part, this is just fast straightforward punk music. Hell, "Metal Stampede" pretty much adopts a thrash tempo during a few sections!
But really, it's the three main members of the band who make it kick so much ass. Jennifer Finch already displays her talent on the bass guitar with her speed and even versatility (impressive, considering she's the youngest member of the band and was in her early 20s), while Suzi and Donita just rip through these songs with ease. Their guitar tone is just fantastic here, maintaining both clarity and sort of a buzzing rawness that keeps the distortion levels quite high. Songs like "Let's Rock Tonight" and "Uncle Bob" are cases in which the amount of guitar feedback is one of their main draws. Roy also does a good job on the drums, providing some good fills here and there; however, it's pretty obvious why Dee would come in soon, as she truly does a better job behind the kit. Ultimately, the one thing that holds the album back from being a classic is probably what you'd imagine it is: L7 didn't fully develop their sound at this point. The chemistry is there in spades, but there's a slight lack of personality in some of the tracks; this would be fixed right up with Smell the Magic
But still, L7
is a fantastic record. It's a short but memorable blast of punk rock energy that, while perhaps not being the best representation of their sound, certainly shows how much their time hanging out with Bad Religion and Epitaph Records paid off. What it lacks in depth and maturity, it makes up with sheer intensity and rawness. When you get down to it, this is a really fun
album, and just as worthy of multiple repeats as much of L7's other work. If you like 80s/90s punk music or want to hear a huge component in riot grrrl's development, this is up your alley.