By Al Kaufman
Finally, the world gets to find out what it would sound like if Beach Boy Brian Wilson and the late Joey Ramone had three daughters.
For their first two CDs, Vivian Girls showed that they were a pretty good garage-rock band. More passion than talent, the chords were kept simple and the songs came at you so quickly that they were gone before you had time to really analyze them.
But the Brooklyn trio opens Share the Joy with “The Other Girls,” a song that clocks in at over six minutes and, after it’s hard-thrashing intro, resorts to jangly guitars, vocal harmonies, and a hypnotic melody. It’s a sort of coming out party for the band, whom many thought would never make it to album three. After 2009’s Everything Goes Wrong failed to make a dent in the commercial market, drummer Ami Koehler left the band and joined Best Coast. Bassist Kickball Katy Goodman formed the band All Saints Day with Cat Power’s Gregg Foreman and also put out a solo CD earlier this year. Lead singer Cassie Ramone (no relation to Joey, whose real last name was Hyman) played with The Babies and also released a solo CD earlier this year. But the girls found a new drummer in Fiona Campbell (drummer for Coasting), and have put out a defining album.
“Dance (If You Wanna)” uses the repetitive energy of The Ramones with the high-pitched harmony vocals of ’50s girl groups. That’s the difference here. The girls have grown up. They play their instruments a little better and are willing to try — and succeed at — new things. And they can sing better. Ramone stays on key throughout (which cannot be said for the former releases) and the girls harmonize like the female Beach Boys. Campbell’s drums gallop throughout, and Goodman and Ramone (on guitar) offer up some almost surf rock melodies.
This is a fun album. It’s full of stories that were prevalent in the old girl rock bands, like getting one’s boyfriend shot (“Sixteen Ways”), or laments like, “He’ll never hold me in his arms again” (“I Heard You Say”). “Take it As it Comes” and “Death” both have talking intros that recall the Shangri-Las’ classic, “Leader of the Pack.” But they are able to keep it modern. They have that certain edge. While their sound has improved and stretched, they are able to maintain the passion and fury that shows up in songs like the middle section of “Light in Your Eyes.” The guitars crunch with the bass, Ramone wails, and Campbell pounds along.
It’s great that the Vivian Girls stuck it out. I can’t wait to see what they do next.