For a while, Girls seemed like an indie band that stood a chance at surviving the long-run: one record released per year for three years in a row (I’m including 2010’s Broken Dreams Club, which few people seemed to talk about at year-end lists because it was an EP), each better than the last. It culminated in 2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which, for the record, might have been 2011’s best indie rock LP. They had a sound that relied on all of their parents’ favorite bands: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground, to name a few that they borrowed at least one thing from. They had a frontman whose past colored his present, and as such, he approached his subject matter with a tender care. They came at a time when indie pop was fighting its way into the mainstream. And then, well, Girls broke up.
The quality of Girls frontman Christopher Owens’ solo career, including his new Chrissybaby Forever, suggests that while Owens was the personality behind Girls, it might have been Chet “JR“ White (bassist, engineer, producer) who was the voice.
Not to suggest that this is all bad, though, as there is some good stuff on Chrissybaby Forever. ”Heroine (Got Nothing On You),” which might be the best song of his solo career, recalls the Beach Boys in the bass-y “doo-doo” backing vocals and also Frank Black in some of the oddball psychedelic guitar. (Recall: Frank Black loved this sort of deranged surf rock.) The lo-fi “Got Nothing On You” section could have been shorter, but it’s a pleasant conclusion to the album’s best song.
The bass, light drumming, and finger-tapping in the choruses of “Out of Bed (Lazy Head)” activates the entire song out of its lull. Otherwise, it’s a decent at best attempt at sleepy psychedelia with a cheesy backdrop of birds singing. The texture of “To Take Care Of Myself Again” is comprised of sweet backing vocals juxtaposed against a slightly noisy backdrop; arpeggiated acoustic guitars set against varied drums.
But, there is a problem: those good moments are spread across 16 tracks, which is significantly more than any previous Owens’ effort, solo or otherwise, and the man’s sound has always been the opposite of unique. Over a prolonged tracklist, his invariant topic matter, coupled with his saccharine singing over slow-mid-tempo songs, becomes much too much. You kind just wanna grab him and shake him and tell him to snap out of his doldrums halfway through. By contrast, Girls’ “Lust for Life” wasn’t about being sad, it was about being happy in the face of sadness.
Owens’ “Another Loser Fuck Up” is nothing in comparison to Girls tunes like “Lust for Life” (which it gleefully recalls in its opening, repeated chord) or “Honey Bunny” (which it recalls in its drumming). The stop-start hooks make “Coffee and Tea” and “Inside Out” seem identical. “Come on and Kiss Me” sounds like it was made for a commercial — although arguably, a lot of Girls/Owens songs sound like they could be the backdrop for commercials, this one sounds commissioned for one.
In an interview with Stereogum, Owens said, “The thing that I’m the most proud of in this record is that toward the end there are four songs that go all together into one giant song. It starts with a track called ‘Waste Away'”. This four-block “medley” of sorts, from “Waste Away” through “I Love You Like I Do”, is a black hole. The second half of “To Take Care of Myself Again” employs a much better use of noise than “Waste Away”; “Susanna” reminds us that Owens’ personality and vocals are his forte, not his guitar playing; “When You Say I Love You” and “I Love You Like I Do” could have easily been merged into one song, which is what they essentially are. “I Love You Like I Do” takes the cloying “la-la” interval hook of the previous song and puts them to better use. When you get to the bottom of things, the medley is 16 minutes of slowly plucked arpeggios, just with seasoning.
Long story short: grab “Heroine (Got Nothing on You)”, then go back and spin Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Or maybe just go back to that album’s source material.