Listening to Tart, the band’s second full-length release, it’s more than a little obvious these girls have listened long and hard to the “wave of strong female artists who made a splash in the early ‘90s” who they say inspired them. The screechy Alanis Morissette vocals, preachy Meredith Brooks lyrics, and the down-and-out Ani DiFranco sentiment are all evident throughout the entire piece—problem is, instead of expanding on themes already explored by these women, the Tart girls seem content to emulate them. And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, bad imitation is something else entirely.
From the get-go, these girls prove they have little to add to music’s feminist movement with statements on album opener, “Behind the Riot”, that are not only outdated, but, at this point, a little embarrassing. “It’s the same old story / We watch it over and over / I’m running out of compassion / For the stupidity of these boys”, the girls sing, apparently in an effort to introduce themselves as tuff broads who don’t take no shit. “We’re ready for another phase / It’s time to hear what the girls have to say / We play the game differently / We have different priorities”, they add, though just what those priorities are we’re never told, as the song repeats these same eight lines over and over. The girls can only rock, it seems, if the boys suck, though I can’t remember Alanis, Meredith, or Ani spouting such generalizations without some kind of justification.
Justification, though, is obviously not one of those “different priorities” the Tart girls speak of. In their most overtly feminist statement, “Le Fille ou la Femme” (which translates as “The Girl or the Woman”), the girls are barking mad at someone (I think I can safely assume it’s a guy) “gesturing [at them in a way] that is not flattering”. Apart from the whole wolf-whistle debate being so 1968, Tart again decide not to expand any further on the incident or their thoughts on it, except to cry more all-too-common feminist catchphrases—“If you know what it means to be a girl like me / All I want is respect you see / Where do you get your balls / It makes me want to scream”.
All this confusion about the meaning of female empowerment is further lost in the jungle of mismatched wording filling up many of the album’s songs. Forget the search for respect; too often it’s all but impossible to decipher what the Tarts are even talking about. The song, “Anne Said”, for example, begins: “What would I do if I was bound and chained / December would not make sense to me”, which, at first glance, could seem like one of Tori Amos’s leftover couplets, but bends soon over in the opposite direction, revealing itself as pretentious gibberish when followed up with: “No more green grass / No more white ass / No more you and me”.
Such balderdash passed of as esoteric profundity continues on “Diluted” (“You will never dry up in the sun / The world evaporates on your tongue / I will never dry up in the sun / My heart evaporates on your tongue”), “Circus” (“My brain is bubbling over with images of naked women / Shutter snapping open to suck them inside”), and “Ten Four” (“Should have / Would have / Could have / Could have / Didn’t”) with nary a complete thought anywhere in sight.
To their credit, though, as musicians, the Tart girls are obviously talented, and they are quite adept at pulling together catchy melodies that more often than not really rock. But all their Down! With! Men! posturing and fifth-grade-poetry lyrics suck up any respect they may have garnered had they stuck to exploring their own strengths rather than what they perceive as male weaknesses. After all, if you’re going to ask for respect, at least offer sufficient reasoning as to why you deserve it—or better yet, why you’re not getting it already, because, while it may have been okay back in the early ‘90s, the ol’ “I’m a woman, dammit!” cop-out just doesn’t cut it anymore.