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The surprise is not that hollerin’ Sahara Hotnights singer Maria Andersson is dating Hives howler Pelle Almqvist, a graduate of the Jagger-approved school of dandy-boy frontmen. After all, they both hail from the red-hot rock factory of Sweden, they’re both young and pretty, and they both indulge in the kind of melodic mayhem that is currently all the rage in punk-stocked garages across the globe. No, the biggest shock here is that Andersson allows Almqvist to go out like that. Dressed as if she raided Joan Jett’s Runaways-era wardrobe, the leather-and-T’d Andersson must give her man a whole heap of shit for his neo-Romantics show-night ensemble of black collared shirts, thin white ties, and shiny white kicks.
Of course, if Andersson doesn’t rag Almqvist for his silly sartorial choices, she always has this bit of ammo to lob his way: Her band’s new album, Jennie Bomb, is significantly more kickass than the Hives’ current LP, Veni Vidi Vicious, which is considerably kickass itself. Hovering somewhere in the girls-on-the-verge territory between L7 and Veruca Salt—or perhaps in the gulf between the Breeders and the Go-Gos—the four 20-something members of the Sahara Hotnights are vocalist-guitarist Andersson, vocalist-guitarist Jennie Asplund, vocalist-bassist Johanna Asplund, and vocalist-drummer Josephine Forsman.
That sure is a lotta vocalists, and it sure sounds like it, too, with the group getting its harmonizing ya-yas out on every track. Disaffected garage-rockers the Hotnights ain’t, and they make sure to give the listener a frenzied array of join-the-party options, whether it’s air-guitaring to the thunderous riffs, air-drumming to the Harley-engine beat, or shouting along to the raucous bliss of putting lame boyfriends in their proper place.
On its previous album, C’mon Let’s Pretend, the band dabbled
in angular New Wave beats and
rigid postpunk phrasing, but these constraints made it sound a little awkward and somehow meek. But times have definitely changed and, well, the Hotnights are meek no more. It takes the band about 32 minutes to rip through Jennie Bomb’s 11 tracks, so there’s little time wasted in getting the pussy-power message across.
Opening shot—and the one that’ll hook you for good—”Alright Alright (Here’s My Fist Where’s the Fight?)” is a switchblade-sharp melee complete with pledges of disobedience (“Now I feel like breaking laws/Go on, start a civil war/Here’s my fist, where’s the fight?/Your world is collapsing tonight”), a Ramones-y chorus (“Alright, alright, alright now”), and a fortified front of guitars that takes the hook from Devo’s “Whip It” and stirs it into a furious, duck-and-weave skirmish. If “Alright Alright” isn’t the flat-out catchiest soundtrack for breaking a chair over someone’s head, I don’t know what is.
Follow-up cut “Keep Up the Speed”—and the one that’ll convince you you’ve discovered the Next Big Thing—kicks off with an angry-infant drumbeat and blurry punked-out guitar riffs. Standard stuff, you might think—that is, before the storm cloud breaks and there’s an even nastier cumulonimbus behind it, with the Hotnights, in unison, promising, “Hey, we can do it again if you like/And repeat it again a few times/We can keep up the speed ’til we die.” More swagger is offered in “On Top of Your World,” a rude-girl rallying cry sung in the key of male-bashing.
And so on. There’s not a false note sounded on Jennie Bomb, and if things start seeming like one sweet, buzzing lump, that’s only because you’re banging your head too hard. When the band does slow down—”slow” being a relative term for this track meet—chief songwriters Andersson and Forsman’s gift for crafting hard-candy melodies is even more apparent. “Fire Alarm” sounds off with a surf’s-up, top’s-down lead that would make Dick Dale proud, then twists it into yet another brass-knuckle chorus. And “With or Without Control,” one of the few moments the Hotnights admit that, yes, sometimes a mere boy can screw up your day, has a coiled, ready-to-strike guitar line courtesy of Jennie Asplund, a musician who displays the kind of sly hooks and arena-size noodling otherwise absent on recent garage-rock workouts.
For the most part, though, the Hotnights keep their motors revved to meltdown, peeling out in ways that never fail to satisfy on the basest cranked-to-11 levels. And though the guys are certainly welcome to party with these riotous girls, they would be wise to beware: On “We’re Not Going Down,” Andersson & Co. set the boundaries for a night in the sack. These warnings, laddies, are more than straightforward: “We’re not going down on our knees for your sake.” No doubt Almqvist has heard that one before. Poor bastard: After you listen to Jennie Bomb, it’ll be obvious who wears the pants in that relationship. CP