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Chicks on Speed sure are complicated. They’re Beastie Girls hooked on punk and metal, yet they work within the starchy confines of techno and house. Their songs have slave-to-fashion titles like “Glamour Girl” (favorite line: “Love her breasts/Forget the rest!”), yet on the cover of their new CD, The Re-Releases of the Un-Releases, they look as if they had just gotten on the bad end of a bar fight. They’re a self-described “art project” with an impressive résumé that includes studies at the Munich Art Academy, museum installations, and album-cover, clothing, and (I swear I’m not making this up) wallpaper designsyet the new disc is a nearly artless mess, complete with muffed lines, annoying filler, and lots of pointless screaming. And, just to make things even more complicated, it also happens to be great.
Messy as it is, The Re-Releases is never boring. Occasionally infuriating, sure. God knows why, for example, the Chicks thought to include a three-minute human-beatbox shuck (“This Is House Music”) so atrocious that even one of their own can be heard to ask, “What kinda shit is this?” Most of the time, however, the Chicks’ everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic is more endearing than off-putting. Like the B-52’s, several of whose tunes are covered on The Re-Releases, the international trio (Kiki Moorse hails from Munich, Alex Murray-Leslie is from Sydney, and Melissa Logan is a transplanted New Yorker) makes up for its lack of musical polish with sheer exuberance. The result is electronic dance music for people who hate electronic dance music. It certainly got yours truly, a confirmed Cotton Mather of the dance floor, up and shaking my bootyat least until my wife pleaded with me to stop. (She’s also placed a moratorium on my moshing with the family pets during the decidedly punkish “Procrastinator”; she claims they “complained.”)
Despite their lo-fi leanings, the Chicks have some nifty musical tricks up their sleeves. Just check out the neat slice-and-dice vocal effects on “Glamour Girl” or the fat bass line on the Beastiesque “Do You Understand RMX.” Or, for that matter, the cooler-than-Jesus beats on “Lush Life.” But the Chicks’ real triumph is the way they couple their seductive grooves with some of the loopiest off-the-skull lyrics this side of Paul’s Boutique. My very favorite, from “Spoken by Stephanie From Marseille, Yes I Do,” goes, “Fashion victim on the air/Shaved off all my pubic hair.” But I’ve got hundreds of other favorites, like the one in “Panasonic Rip-Off” that goes, “I couldn’t afford your records/So I bought these shoes instead/Tell me you like ’em/Or I’ll kick you in the head.”
The Chicks also have a gift for adapting others’ tunes to their own trashy aesthetic: Included here are a spoken-word version of Cracker’s “Eurotrash Girl” that reveals the despair at the heart of David Lowery’s slumming-slacker anthem, a menacing take on “Warm Leatherette” that’s way scarier than the Normal’s 1978 classic, and a
better-than-the-original cover of the B-52’s’ “Song for a Future Generation,” with the Fred Schneider part done to hilarious effect by some guy with an impossibly thick Teutonic accent.
Sure, listening to The Re-Releases is sorta the aural equivalent of digging through a three-for-a-dollar thrift-shop bin. But is there anybody out there who doesn’t love digging through thrift-shop bins? Musical perfectionism can be nice, as folks like Billy Corgan and Thom Yorke have ably demonstrated, but it’s not necessarily good for your soul, which requires its daily dose of imperfection. As for me, I’d take Chicks on Speed’s anarchic goofiness over the belabored, pristine efforts of Smashing Pumpkins or Radiohead any day. The Chicks have got more piss and vinegar in them than a dozen anhedonic Corgan-Yorkes. And they’re funnier and sexier, too. The Re-Releases of the Un-Releases is a celebration of the pure joy of fucking aroundand a reminder that getting it right isn’t half as important as getting down. CP