[16 January 2006]
It’s always good to see new female rockers. It shouldn’t matter, except that the rock world remains stubbornly one-sided in its gender balance—for all the Riot Grrrls and Pop Princesses of the last decade, a decent female rock group is still as rare as hens’ teeth. Nowadays it’s not unusual to see female musicians playing alongside their male counterparts, but every female bass player is still outnumbered by 20 all-male combos. Why is this? I know it’s not that women don’t listen to rock and roll, and I also know that women are just as likely to take up an instrument as men. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something essentially unequal and—dare I say in this era of assumed political gender equality—sexist in the very fabric of the rock and roll universe, such that any woman who dares to stand on stage as an equal to their male counterparts has to overcome a disproportionate degree of obstacles both practical and emotional? Taking an informal survey of the rock world, you’ve got the Donnas, Kitty, Sleater-Kinney, and Le Tigre… am I missing anyone? Are Kitty even still around? And how many of these groups have ever gone platinum?
Screaming out of Southern California like an avenging angel, I present to you Go Betty Go, whose Nothing Is More is one of the best hard-rock debuts I’ve heard in years. Notice I didn’t add any qualifiers like, “they’re OK, for girls”, or anything stupid like that. No, these ladies possess The Rock in equal or greater proportion to their rockingest male counterparts, and the fact that they’re not already superstars is baffling.
Rocking is all well and good, I hear you asking, but what about their chops? Can they write the kind of songs that stick in your head? The answer is unequivocally yes. The album opens with three of the catchiest pop-metal ditties I have heard in quite some time—“Saturday”, “I’m From LA” and “Get Out”. Each of these could easily be a hit on rock radio, with razor sharp hooks and the kind of playfully bitchy lyrics that you’ll find yourself humming long after the stereo has gone silent. Take the chorus of “I’m From LA”:
They say I’m lazy, I’m always late, Full of excuses, I’m from LA, They say I’m careless, can’t find my way, Crazy and precious, I’m from LA.
Now, without even having heard the song, you can probably get some idea of the catchy-quotient from the way the clipped sing-song cadence naturally rolls off your tongue. It might not be the fanciest poetry, but it is extremely effective, like the best rock—simple, memorable, and steeped in attitude.
Which is not to say that the album is disproportionately front-loaded. While there’s nothing on the album quite as powerful as the first three songs, it stays interesting throughout. After the initial blast, the group segues into “The Pirate Song”, which doesn’t really have anything to do with pirates other than the vague nautical associations summoned by the accordion and banjo. The song is actually about a girl getting her boyfriend stolen by a “circus freak”—someone who wears her “pants too small” and has a “funny funny face”. So I guess the song is actually about a boy pirate. It’s catchy, regardless.
There are two Spanish-language tunes, “No Hay Perdon” and “Donde Voy”. Considering the potential fanbase for any Southern Californian hard rock group, a dash of Latin flavoring undoubtedly comes in handy. The rest of the album continues with a fairly unassailable mixture of rock chutzpah and occasional vulnerability. The quiet ballad “Ticking Bombs” passes so seamlessly into “Laugh Again” that you might think them to be the same song.
Nothing is More is obviously the product of a preternaturally gifted combo. A glance at their bio shows that they had been touring nonstop for over a year at the time they convened to record the album—and, sure enough, the result unfolds with the kind of practiced, confident authority that can only come from experience. Although Betty Cisneros’ powerful, metal-influenced guitar work is the obvious anchor, there’s not a weak link in the group. Singer Nicolette Vilar seems possesses the perfect combination of power and attitude to make herself heard over the squall.
There are lots of rock groups out there who can play well, and some of them even have the songs to match. But rarely will you find a group that has all this and stadium-sized charisma. Nothing is More may not be entirely perfect, but I can guarantee you it’s a damn sight better than whatever the hell MTV is flogging these days. If these girls aren’t famous in five years time, there is something seriously wrong.