Les Baton Rouge is a potpourri of European cities and flair. Although starting off in Portugal, the group now calls Berlin home. And they have a lot of history behind them, especially lead singer Suspira Franklyn, who created the first “riot grrl” band in Portugal, called Everground. Backed by James Jacket on guitar, Corrine Dumas on drums, and Peter Shamble (what a moniker!) on bass, the band have performed with everyone from Marky Ramone and Dick Dale to Nashville Pussy and, more recently, Mooney Suzuki, “the hardest working band in show business”. This 11-track album contains bits of Peaches, a heap of Blondie, and a good share of grrl groups like Sleater-Kinney and L7. Kicking things off is the Elastica-like “Chloe Yurtz”. Franklyn starts off quiet as the guitars come to the fore, but she lets loose during the chorus. While there aren’t a lot of groundbreaking sounds on this tune, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of fun, energy, and intensity to it. She goes into a theatrical mode a la Grace Slick, but it comes off okay.
Thankfully, the band has the goods to back up a lot of the buzz surrounding them, including the galloping electro-rock style on “Traffic Trail”. Bringing to mind Pulp in the early ‘80s, the tempo picks up during the initial chorus and veers into gritty punk territory despite repeating “alles alles alles” throughout. What makes it stick is the groove, bringing newcomers like Franz Ferdinand to one’s brain instantly. Few can change gears so quickly and so smoothly as these guys. “Somersault” takes the record into a dumb tailspin though, a fairly routine garage rocker that has Suspira talking about rock and roll being in your soul and out of control. It might work better as an instrumental along the lines of Singapore Sling. The creepy crawler of “Burning Desire” is an improvement, with sort of an early Nico-meets-the Velvet Underground feel to it. Vocally, Suspira steals the tune as the gears change back and forth without stalling.
Produced by Tim Kerr, “the red stick” hit the wall starting on “Venus Girdle”, an over-the-top vocal and backing vocal trying to mesh into Shamble’s bass line and Dumas’s skins pounding. It begins taking shape 90 seconds in, but by that time it’s running on fumes and is too little, too late. The mumbling is another annoyance. The centerpiece of the album goes against the grain and comes up smelling like roses, a snarling mix of rock and punk that could give Debbie Harry a run for her money. Dick Dale’s influences are heard on the surf guitar bits sprinkled in the number. “I think I don’t like this”, somebody says, but I’d beg to differ. The same can be stated for “Behind That Body”, a squealing punk anthem that opens low and ends on a sugar high.
If there’s one thing Les Baton Rouge don’t do, it’s keep it simple, stupid! There are plenty of twists and turns on the songs, always going left when you think a right turn or U-turn is coming. Another example of this is the winding “Maria Lamas”, which again compares with Elastica’s first album. Despite all the turns, though, it could be the simplest song thus far on the record. Nonetheless, it can’t help the fact that “Women in Control” is a complete musical shambles, a clunker that is very disappointing and is filler at best. This is atoned for with the dark and sneering “Scarlet Whore”, a ditty suited perfected for Suspira’s wide-ranging vocal prowess. As for “Speaks through My Body”, well, it’s okay, but not the band’s best moment. However, if you like punk rock or any kind of rock that challenges you, My Body: The Pistol is without question one of the better places to start.