After losing bassist/singer/songwriter Jennifer Finch before this album was recorded when she left the group for personal reasons, L7 was at a bit of a crossroads. Having been together for 10 years and having released four highly regarded albums in that time, the group now had a big record label (Warner) looking for a hit breathing down their necks and a bit of time to make up for. With the excellent “Bricks Are Heavy” album providing them some momentum a few years before and the follow up “Hungry For Stink” not doing anything to kill it or further it, the band went into the studio with producer Rob Cavallo (who’s credits include albums by Jewel, My Chemical Romance, Goo Goo Dolls, Chris Isaak, Less Then Jake, Alanis Morisette, and most notably Green Day) and came out the other side with perhaps the best album of their 10 year career. And although Jennifer Finch’s distinctive high pitched wail was now lost to the band as well as her solid bass work, guitarists/songwriters Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardener show two equal halves of a pie are just as well as three pieces had been and on this album, “The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum”, deliver the goods in full.
Using session player and friend Greta Brinkman on bass to fill the space left by Finch, the album starts heavy with a shriek of “Hey, Yo, Hello, Heyyyyyy!”, and the title track (all 58 seconds of it) comes in like a jack hammer pounding the pavement, followed by the pop-metal of “Drama” and spare hard rock of “Off The Wagon”. And while neither of these songs are a departure from L7’s previous two efforts (originality is not really a word associated with this band) the production and mix is noticeably crisper and cleaner and lends the sound of the album a more metal edge then heard on past L7 recordings. The themes of these songs while consistent with past L7 topics of disdain for those who would bring them down (the angry, finger pointing Drama) and having a good time at all cost even if it means self loathing and self destruction (the alcohol soaked Off The Wagon) are nonetheless a step forward for this basic rock n roll foursome that for this album have a tighter sound, more focused songwriting, and the loss of a bass player/singer/songwriter to make up for. And luckily for us the rest of the album would find the girls answering the call in fine fashion.
Rocking ahead the band continues the bouncy treatment given Off The Wagon with the codependent flying off the rails track “I Need”. Again, nothing incredibly new here if you are familiar with the group. Big bass and drums and nu metal inspired riffs are laid down while Donita Sparks rants poetic and frustrated about self obsession and angsty insecurity. “Enough talk about me/Let’s talk about you/What do you think of me/What do you think of me…..Me!” she pleads into the mic, and it’s funny and sad all at once. Things keep moving along nicely for the smooth and breezy pop inspired “Moonshine“ (which features a count off intro by Lionel Richie who was recording down the hall and popped into the L7 studio for a visit) that definitely signals a freshening up of the old fuzz tone sound of L7 records gone past, as the band digs into a groove that features twangy guitar licks and an airy chorus accompanied all the while with background vocals of “la-la-la-la’s”. It’s a striking song that upon repeated plays reveals something new to the listener each time out it seems, and it is one of the more mature cuts musically and lyrically on any L7 album. If maturity is something that can be mentioned in the same breath as this group. And after the noisy and dirge like diversion “Bitter Wine” the L7 crew are back up to their old tricks with the wonderful, bitter, joyous, and aptly titled hard rock of “The Masses Are Asses” Always a rebellious bunch at the core with the music and attitude to match, other women shouting out “The Masses Are Asses” in song might draw grimaces and smirks in some quarters. But in these capable hands it sounds as honest and forthright as an earlier tune of theirs from the Bricks Are Heavy LP by the name of “Shi.tlist”. And while other all female rock bands might sound contrived making such statements and taking a tough chick stance, these young women are simply so well suited to playing this kind of music and writing these types of songs that you know upon hearing them it’s 100% from the heart. However broken that heart may be.
Not letting up while heading for home, the band kicks into the uproarious if fairly standard punk-pop-metal tune “Bad Things”. And if my description of some of these songs make them sound confusing and like a bit of a hodgepodge, nothing could be further from the reality. This band simply plays music that has been inspired and influenced by multiple rock n roll genres. And while they may have a metal sound, they have a punk rock attitude, a hard rock/post grunge groove, excellent pop sensibilities, and a dark, glam like edge to them that makes the whole thing more fun and ironic then it has a right to be. This is not whiny music. Nor is it bogged down. It moves, it swings, it lives and breathes. And in the end the ability to bring it all together and get it all across as one
thing may be this bands greatest gift.
Not everything is perfect about this record, though. As with their previous effort “Hungry for Stink” the album becomes inconsistent toward the end with the heavy and dumbed down generic riffing of “Must Have More” and dismal, plodding, and uninspired “Me, Myself, And I”. Luckily for us however these less then tunes are put between two of the better cuts on the album in the dreamy and intriguing “Non-Existent Patricia” and mantra like chant song “Lorenza, Giada, Alessandra”. And it is this last tune in particular which perhaps best represents what this band does best. It starts with heavy mid-tempo metal riffing and by songs end turns into a wild, swirling , breakneck speed mass of noise and feedback. And with the only lyrics being the names of three Italian fans the song takes it’s name from being repeated over and over followed by an equal number of “I love you” shout outs, it captures the spirit of this band and the good times behind all the fuss perfectly, while getting us to bang our heads and head for the mosh pit all at the same time.
L7 may not be a group for everybody, but they are certainly a group for anybody who likes loud, free spirited, noisy and honest rock n roll. And while the fact they are an all female act may be something the record company likes to play down, on record and in attitude it can’t be denied that is what this group is, and so it should be noted, if not exactly emphasized. Making rock music like the bad boy bands of Los Angeles they have shared stages with yet staying distinctly female in topic and form is no easy feat to pull off. Yet on The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, this badass band from the seedier side of L.A. nightlife and the Sunset Strip manage to bring it all together and pull it off like most other bands comprised of that other gender could only hope to do in their wildest dreams. And that’s a pretty good thing whether you be rock n roll boy, girl, or otherwise.