Remember that whole riot grrrl thing? Where punkish girls put the politics back into the music in the early ‘90s? Well, one of the most important of those bands, Bratmobile, had a very short life (albeit a longer-lived influence) and its members parted ways about 11 years ago. One of them, Allison Wolfe is apparently still around, and now she’s in a band called Partyline. On its debut EP, Girls With Glasses, the group combines punky party tunes with more-or-less political messages for the mid-‘00s.
Over six songs, the music follows in the footsteps of early rioters. A little less noisy than Bratmobile and a little more melodic, but still essentially Ramonesian in structure and delivery. As Wolfe sings in “Girls Like Me”: “Girls like me / Were born to rock ‘n’ roll.” The simplicity belies the… well, no, it’s just simple. And fun, which is important.
If you’ve braced yourself for the big crush lyrically, forget it. The songwriting on this disc shows the group’s wit, but not any incisiveness. The opening track provides a clever, ambivalent ode to Ralph Nader. The song begins with “Oh honey I love you / But what if we don’t need you?” but moves in fits to “Fuck Bush and Gore, you’re number one!” While the vocals bring a fun spirit to a political song, the lyrical content already feels dated. The target audience for this track would have been small even in 2004’s election season, but by this summer, it’s positively microscopic.
The rest of the album fortunately avoids expiration-date lyrics, but not to any real benefit. “Girls With Glasses” sounds like a smart-girl anthem, but if you listen, you’ll hear indie-girl horn-rims and adolescent indecisiveness. “No Romantic” takes the disc to its highest point of complexity, where desire meets resistance, and privilege is taken to task succinctly and wryly:
“Family pictures on the wall
Try to tell me you’re well-bre
Gimme head or gimme justice
No one cars when they’re well fed
Here, the group suggests that both wealth and sexual satisfaction can create an apathy born of satiety. The idea intrigues—can a politico get all loved-up?—but fades quickly.
The following song, “Cicada Summer”, brings a pretty standard break-up shout, with production that could have come from a soundboard at a second-rate bar show… and I mean that in the best possible way. The feel of the track matches the aggression and hurt in Wolfe’s vocals. “Cicada Summer” has perhaps the most personal tone in a collection of personal-meets-political numbers, yet it falls flat because there’s no new take on the theme.
Girls With Glasses isn’t so much a flawed EP as it is an unexciting one. The music’s fine, the lyrics aren’t bad, but it doesn’t really mean anything. The disc, in its punkful way, sounds timeless, but the songs themselves sound outdated. It’s as if Partyline is still printing its ‘zine.
// Notes from the Road
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