Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Smell the Magic [Sub Pop, 1990] A
  • Bricks Are Heavy [Slash, 1992] A
  • Hungry for Stink [Slash/Reprise, 1994] A-
  • The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum [Slash/Reprise, 1997] A-
  • Live: Omaha to Osaka [Man's Ruin, 1998] *
  • Slap-Happy [Wax Tadpole/Bong Load, 1999] **
  • Fast and Frightening [Easy Action, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Smell the Magic [Sub Pop, 1990]
Generalizing the hostile "Shove" with the balls-to-the-wall "Fast and Frightening," dissecting everybody else's suicidal tendencies on "Deathwish" before joining the fun on "'Till the Wheels Fall Off," humping a "Broomstick" as a preamble to "Packin' a Rod," these clitocentric trouble girls are everything the Runaways were supposed to be. Afraid of nothing including the four-syllable F-word, they go for an obsessive, dirty, punk pop-metal so aggressive it'll scare damn near every sister in sight. But the bravest will grow stronger. Soon they'll tell others. And start their own bands. And conquer the world. Right? A

Bricks Are Heavy [Slash, 1992]
Once again Butch Vig's mission is to smelt speed-sludge into grunge-metal alloy, which with this band involves intense admixtures of ditty and power chord. Although the passion of their major-label stab may not match Nirvana's, it's just as catchy and a touch nastier. Driven onward by the quick and muscular Dee Plakas, their buzzing textures and heavy hooks are streamlined rather than softened or dulled even if they don't accelerate like on last year's thrash longform. Read-my-title outbursts like "Wargasm," "Diet Pill," and "Shitlist" fulfill the ancient prophecy of a time when gurls would reinvent punk out of sheer delight in their own power. Grrrls will be grrrls. A

Hungry for Stink [Slash/Reprise, 1994]
Always a song band, they reverse the usual evolution by slathering themselves with grunge, which they play for weird sounds rather than dull despair. Hence their anger seems more metal-generic than punk-programmatic--rooted in the rock and roll everyday, where it belongs. It should go without saying that it's often about gender nevertheless; how anyone can accuse them of riding a bandwagon is beyond me. Every day, women is what they are, and there are lots of ways that can be shitty--the rape avoidance diary "Can I Run" describes only a few. But every day, rock and rollers is also what they are, and they're much better at it than Candlebox or Alice in Chains. And yes, the songs help. A-

The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum [Slash/Reprise, 1997]
Divested of Jennifer Finch's liberal conscience, bad girls Donita Sparks and Suzy Gardner are she-cats with a bitch's vocabulary, yowling and whining the basics: "Me, Myself and I," "I Need," "Must Have More." Brazenly revving even further toward metal, they work their claim to "the urban din" till it yields the slag and shiny things they won't do without. A-

Live: Omaha to Osaka [Man's Ruin, 1998]
"It's a long way to stay where you are in rock and roll," and also, "L7 would rather be with you people here tonight in Omaha than with some of the finest people in the world" ("Shitlist," "Lorenza, Giada, Allessandra") *

Slap-Happy [Wax Tadpole/Bong Load, 1999]
"Place my bet on my rockin' machine" ("Livin' Large," "Crackpot Baby"). **

Fast and Frightening [Easy Action, 2016]
"Femininity is sensitivity with a light, delicate touch. But femininity is also intensity when it comes from four fine hard-rocking ladies--L7." So intones a menacing Donita Sparks to kick off the 1992 Radio Brisbane performance that precedes a 1990 Detroit show on disc two, both of which show off this feminist song band's equal commitment to feedback-drenched aggro. Basically a lotta noise with tunes buried in it, I've come to dig their ballroom blitz as much as disc one's winning array of stray live and tribute-record covers: not just the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" but Willie Nelson's "Three Days," not just the Dead Kennedys' "Let's Lynch the Landlord" but Ray Barretto's "El Watusi." This 2016 double-CD was released to whip up word-of-mouth for a comeback expected to generate a new album that has yet to materialize beyond a single that doesn't live up to the title "Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago." Get it while you can if you can. A-