Review Summary: Sex with a Geek
Lisa Germano was a bit of a late bloomer only getting around to releasing her debut album at the comparatively ripe old age of thirty three. This is somewhat surprising considering she'd been playing violin since her early childhood and developed her musician's chops playing alongside John Mellencamp and touring with a number of other artists including Simple Minds. It feels like hers is a story of slowly increasing confidence and that's a theme that runs neatly alongside the subject matter of her breakout hit album, 'Geek the Girl'. How much of this album is autobiographical isn't revealed and, well, you wouldn't necessarily want to know considering the uncomfortable and raw nature of the stories told here.
There's an 'every girl' appeal to the lyrics on 'Geek the Girl' that'd surely speak to any woman who ever felt at all awkward as they approached their time of sexual awakening. I'm sure there are a small proportion of girls who take this change in stride (steady now readership) but the 'Geek' of the title certainly isn't one of them, and you'd wager she's in the majority. The first portion of the album focuses on this developmental stage and it can feel uncomfortably reminiscent of watching Bambi attempting to get to her feet while balanced on that iced over lake. Germano's instrumental backing frequently approximates music box melodies and conjures up a fairy tale atmosphere, one that at this early point of the album still sounds relatively innocent. Combined with Lisa's breathy hushed singing style the overall effect is deeply intimate with just a hint of claustrophobia. On this material Geek's concerns can seem mundane, light hearted, even frivolous. On the catchy title track she worries that she doesn't feel 'cool' and struggles on the dance floor; her audience could be forgiven for crying out 'big deal'.
Well, the middle section of the album explains why this lack of confidence and street smarts can be a big deal as Geek tumbles down the rabbit hole of early adulthood and headlong into the minefield of real sexual encounters. There are three songs here that trace a series of formative sexual moments, each acting like a twisted fantasy, that are presented as if only partially remembered while in a half removed, waking dream state. The first of these, 'Cry Wolf', is hauntingly beautiful and it can be easy to overlook the fact that in all likelihood the lyrics concern an actual or attempted date rape. The song makes it abundantly clear that Geek is getting in way over her head now, accused of leading men on and risking the wrath of the spurned party as well as her peers. Ever was it so. Things take an even darker turn on the next track '...A Psychopath' where an allegedly genuine call to the police reporting a stalker is smothered in ominous instrumentation and punctuated by creepy 'little girl lost' verses. The musical approach is reminiscent of the sort of style Mark Linkous would experiment with a year later on the Sparklehorse debut. The finale of this trio of everyday horrors is 'Sexy Little Girl Princess', a song that sees an increasingly desperate Geek giving in to the demands of men she fully knows have dubious motivations. At this stage she's resigned herself to this behaviour seeing it as her safest way of navigating this terrifying world.
The final stage of the album is a picking up of the pieces as Geek attempts to rebuild her shattered psyche. A lot of damage has been done. 'Cancer of Everything' reveals her dark and cynical sense of humour born of a hundred disappointments. It's a song and title that no doubt resonated with one Mark E. Everett as he prepared to embark on his song writing career. The final trio of tracks find Geek fantasising over finding a better man, or if not a better world altogether. This is where Germano finally lets a little light back into 'Geek the Girl' but it's still very much a bittersweet hope and barely qualifies as any sort of victory for Geek. She's not totally given up on the idea of men, and by that token a chance at love and happiness, just the reality she's confronted with.
Working back and investigating albums from an era you lived through is always fraught with dangers, particularly that of misapplied historical context. On first listening to 'Geek the Girl' you might find yourself, as I did, playing 'spot the influence' but it's only when you look at the album's release date you realise this work actually predates the Eels, Sparklehorse and many other lo fi indie pop acts of the day. It's this fact that helps cement the album as a classic; simply put the album's influence is huge and the style Germano landed on here was certainly ground-breaking for '94. On top of that the subject matter she takes on here was crying out for someone to deliver a definitive statement of some sort, all the better for it being recorded in the format of a (near) concept album. Albums that marry a perfect concept to a fresh musical approach that then, by happy chance, also find the artist in question at their most inspired are rare indeed. 'Geek the Girl' is one such album.