It’s hard to believe that, with the 2016 release of her self-titled album, pioneering LA chicana punk Alice Bag has finally given the world a proper solo album after years of groundbreaking work with a number of female-fronted groups. Founding member of the criminally under-documented first wave of LA punk band the Bags, Bag herself has seen bits and pieces of her work collected and anthologized over the nearly 40 years since she first burst onto the scene. And while this may be the first album released under her name alone, it’s not as though she hasn’t been busy. The intervening years have seen Bag adding author, educator and activist to her already-strong underground credentials as a singer, songwriter and bandleader.
Having penned two books in 2011’s Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story and 2015’s self-published Pipe Bomb for the Soul, Bag has shown herself to be a creative force showing no signs of slowing down. Fiercely independent, socially and politically-minded, her art holds a mirror up to society, presenting an unflinching portrait of the ugliness that surrounds us. Wrapped in a punk and pop sheen, her social commentary could prove deceptively effective for those more inclined to turn a blind eye to the issues.
Proving herself still in possession of the fiery punk passion that made her a stand-out performer in Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, Bag viciously tears through the blistering “Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice” and opening track “Little Hypocrite”. Where many of her peers have since gone on to milder forms of artistic expression, often with an overt country tinge (Exene Cervenka, John Doe and Alejandro Escovedo, to name but a few), Bag remains a raging firebrand capable of searing punk intensity little diminished from the genre’s late ‘70s heyday.
Like a true punk poet, Bag rails and rages against domestic violence (“He’s So Sorry”), standardized education (“Programmed”) and marital dysfunction and infidelity (“Suburban Home”), all without the slightest trace of irony. This bleeding heart sincerity cuts to the heart of each issue and, with her knack for engaging melodicism and literary lyrics, proves to be a highly effective form of message administration.
“No Means No” takes on the culture of rape that exists within certain situations in which women are said to have deserved what happened based on either their manner of dress or consumption of alcohol or drugs. Here Bag emphatically rebukes all these notions by forcefully stating the song’s title over a driving beat; regardless of the situation, no means no and there is no justification for this type of abuse suffered by countless women.
The girl group pop pastiche of “He’s So Sorry” plays like a Shangri-Las’ track in which the abusive boyfriend is no longer lionized as a rebellious outsider and instead called out for the monster he is. “Suburban Home”, one of Alice Bag’s strongest, most mature tracks, is a haunting, lyrical ballad chronicling the dissolution of a marriage through lies and mistrust. It’s lilting melody belies the song’s underlying sentiment of melancholy heartache. It’s a beautifully depressing, accurate portrait of internalized insecurities and the toll they can take on interpersonal relationships if left unchecked.
“Incorporeal Life” adopts a Latin rhythm to its punk roots to create a hybrid sound and feel rooted in the scene she initially helped facilitate. Fittingly, Alice Bag closes with the Spanish-language “Inesperado Adios” (unexpected goodbye), a haunting ballad dealing with the plight of a family whose lives were torn apart when their father was deported for being an undocumented immigrant. If Alice Bag is but the first politically and socially-charged salvo in the start of a belated solo career, it’s a welcome opening statement and (hopefully) harbinger of what’s to come.
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