If there’s any band that proves how sped-up the half-life of blogosphere hype can be, it’s Vivian Girls. So while it really wasn’t so long ago—2008, to be precise—that the group was being hailed for spearheading the revival of ‘60s girl-group pop and ‘90s lo-fi indie at the same time, Vivian Girls now seem like underappreciated veterans of a scene they helped to make, surpassed in acclaim and popularity by acts they helped to launch who took their shtick and pushed it in directions they either couldn’t or didn’t want to go. Outpunked by Dum Dum Girls and outpopped by Best Coast (both of which have featured former Vivian Girls drummers), Vivian Girls became yesterday’s news before they had the chance to grab all the headlines due to ‘em. And that’s not even mentioning how the band itself seems to be hastening its own obsolescence, what with core members Cassie Ramone and “Kickball” Katy Goodman venturing into side projects of their own, Babies and La Sera, respectively. Time passed Vivian Girls by, even as they’re hitting their prime.
So considering the back story, it’s tempting to read too much into “The Other Girls”, the leadoff number from Vivian Girls’ third album, Share the Joy. And if the song’s title wasn’t provocation enough, the lyrics are all about Vivian Girls standing their ground and staying true to their vision. Though she’s not exactly throwing down the gauntlet in her flat, distinctively imperfect voice, Cassie Ramone comes darn close to fighting words, whatever girls she’s talking about when she sings: “I don’t wanna be like the other girls / Don’t wanna see like the other girls / I don’t wanna lose myself / I don’t wanna live my life like / The other girls.” As if to drive their point home, these Girls then do what they do best like never before, going into an extended jam of surfy guitars and garage-rock riffs on a six-minute track that might as well be their mission statement.
Whether you want to describe Vivian Girls as consistent or redundant, familiar or limited, Share the Joy is more or less what you’ve come to expect from the trio. Sure, they spin their wheels a bit on the tough-girl poses of “Sixteen Ways” and “Death”, particularly on the former’s attempt to remake “Leader of the Pack” for the Kill Bill generation. But the antidote for lowered expectations and lukewarm interest is the giddy, breathless ditty “Dance (If You Wanna)”, which hearkens back to the best of Tallulah Gosh and goes to show that changing and growing are overrated when you’re working with a timeless formula. Paced by drummer Fiona Campbell’s insistent beats, “Lake House” and “Trying to Pretend” are more along the lines of rambling, shambling charmers that got Vivian Girls noticed in the first place, snarling with punk attitude and just enough pop chops to get you hooked.
But even if Vivian Girls are pretty much staying the course on Share the Joy, it’s not like they haven’t finetuned and sharpened their act this time around. Most obviously, Vivian Girls aren’t quite so lo-fi any more on the new album, and their songs fare well with more room to breathe and a clearer production. It definitely helps to bring out a catchier and more melodic side to the band on the first single, “I Heard You Say”. With a June-gloomy west-coast sound, Ramone and Goodman fulfill their potential as they harmonize like a homespun Mamas and Papas or a thrift-store Bangles, letting just enough sun in through overcast pop tones. And on the cheeky “Take It As It Comes”, Vivian Girls really live up to the girl group tag that’s been attached to them, focusing on the retro bubblegum vocals by shedding the fuzzy, cardigan-rock guitars.
More than anything, though, “Take It As It Comes” works like a mantra for Vivian Girls, as they dole out advice that applies just as well to chasing boys as it is to getting love from the blogs: “You gotta think with your head, girl / Not with your heart / If you ever want a love so true.” So, even if they’ve been all but written off by tastemakers and scenesters who’ve moved on, Vivian Girls sound like they’re more than happy to ride out the trends that brought them attention to begin with. Maybe there’s something to the law of diminishing returns and the novelty factor has certainly worn off, but, objectively speaking, it’s hard not to acknowledge that Share the Joy is Vivian Girls’ best crafted, most cohesive effort yet. Just because everyone else jumped the shark on them doesn’t mean Vivian Girls aren’t going to keep on keeping on.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.