[2 March 2003]
“Rock is back” declared magazine articles and websites around the world in 2002. The response that it never really left is only partially correct. The airwaves (or more importantly, at this point, the video channels) have been dominated by teen-pop and bling-bling hip-hop over the past five years or so. In that time, it wasn’t that rock music wasn’t being written, performed and lived during this time, it’s just that it wasn’t what mainstream corporate media chose to talk about. But a quick search reveals it has been two years since either ‘NSync or the Backstreet Boys have released albums, which can mean death in their product-driven genre. And while these groups slipped under the radar once their singles dried up, it was, ironically, records that were released two or more years ago that were being hailed as the return of rock in 2002. The Hives’ Veni Vidi Vicious from 2000 and The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells from 2001 made many 2002 top 10 lists.
The success of The White Stripes has resulted in a resurgence of interest in Detroit, from The Von Bondies to The Dirtbombs. And while many of Detroit’s bands are carrying on the various traditions of R&B or garage rock Detroit has always been known for, The Gore Gore Girls combine the seemingly disparate styles of ‘60s girl groups and noisy indie-rock to create a unique yet familiar sound. The Gore Gore Girls (who take their name from the title of a HG Lewis’ blood ‘n’ guts B movie) are the creation of principle songwriter Amy Surdu (Vocals/Guitar), the groups’ remaining original member. Their new record, Up All Night is a collection of not only originals, but also a few covers, made up of girl group songs of the past. At times, the contrast between the originals and the covers is glaring, with Surdu’s original compositions sometimes coming up short in comparison.
The Gore Gore Girls try to approximate the style of the older songs with mixed results. The best, including “Hot Rod Breakdown” and “Atlanta” mix rockabilly, vocal and harmonies and great hooks while retaining the feel of ‘60s R&B, though the latter still sounds like it could have some from Veruca Salt’s debut. But when the songs don’t work, as in “Shotgun Wedding” or “Cross County Lines”, it is because they sound too forced. Trying to keep their style confined within certain boundaries seems is self-defeating, as Surdu obviously has talent. The gimmick of a modern day girl group may be too limiting. The arguably best song of the record, “Atlanta” is a perfect example of what Amy Surdu is capable of writing, a song that lets the artifice of self-imposed boundaries drop, letting the melody and form speak for itself.
Up All Night is far from perfect, but does indicate good things to come. The Little Eva cover “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” contains the best vocal performances over an accordingly subtle musical track. Surdu’s strength as a vocalist lies in her lower register where her control is most obvious, and when she stays in that range, the songs work that much better. While the lo-fi recording works well to re-create the static ambiance of ‘60s recordings, it does leave the listener feeling a little flat. I’m guessing that this is a fun and ferocious band to see play live, as their enthusiasm shines through the entire record. If they can just loosen up on the concept, the next record could be The Gore Gore Girls gone wild.