[1 May 2008]
The experience of spinning Heloise and the Savoir Faire’s debut Trash, Rats and Microphones in its entirety is similar to an afternoon binge of cotton candy, pop rocks and new wave cassettes. The giddy thrill of sugar and retro kitsch may be briefly elating, but the aftermath leaves a general feeling of emptiness and usually a lingering headache. The buzz surrounding Heloise Williams, her merry band of Solid-Gold dancers and backup band the Savoir Faire has saturated Myspace and various hipster blogs. Those elusive New York tastemakers are celebrating her as the toast of the underground town. Much of Heloise’s appeal is a combination of outlandish fashion, glam sex appeal, and the raw ecstasy of her dance-centric live shows. Without the visceral and visual appeal, the album is a non-stop loop of pulsing Casio beats and New Wave synth that makes for a decent dance party, but quickly fades from memory.
Looking and sounding like the love child of Debbie Harry and Missing Persons’ Terry Bozzio, Heloise is a striking and charismatic pop construct, and her charms shine through on album highlights “Givin’ U the Bizness” and “Members Only.” With a tongue cemented firmly in cheek, Heloise muses about “jackets / nice asses / backstage passes” with sweet tart sassiness on “Members Only.” On “Downtown”, featuring an unrecognizable Debbie Harry, Heloise shrieks about never paying for drinks while hanging with the cool people downtown. The problem with all this is the constant snarky tone, as the subjects Heloise satirizes—scenesters, groupies and retro chic—are simultaneously the characteristics she embraces. Williams’ distinct lack of songwriting chops is glaringly obvious on the insipid “On Fuego.” The track strives for a fractured narrative about South of the Border drinking and partying, but is just as shallow and mildly titillating as any late night Girls Gone Wild commercial. Williams fails to separate satire from sincerity, and while she appears to be attacking vacuous party girls, the fist-pumping chorus, “I’m a Tijuana wanna be a Margarita freak,” leaves the impression that Heloise feels right at home at the fiesta.
The Scissor Sisters, to whom Heloise and the Savoir Faire bear unavoidable stylistic and musical comparisons, embrace the looking glass façade of their dance-pop shallowness and reflect it right back to the audience. Heloise strives for street cred, from the misleading ‘lying face down in the Bowery gutter’ album title to her coy, ironic detachment from the glam lifestyle she lampoons. There are distinct pleasures on Trash, Rats and Microphones, with its crisp, clean production and infectious post punk/new wave amalgamation. The lyrics can be deceptively clever, as Heloise flaunts her sexuality in an ultramodern world. “Take me back to your Microsoft suite / where I excel between the silken spread sheets,” purrs the sex kitten with claws on “Givin’ U the Business.” Yet the transcendent moments are fleeting. While this is a decent first effort that may do well on the underground dance circuit, it’s clear that the image, style and attitude are temporarily overshadowing the music.