To be honest, I didn’t really like this album after the first listen. Partially, that’s because of the first track, which is more than nine minutes of mostly instrumental jamming. From a punk band.
Then again, this is a punk record, so the songs can get some getting used to. I clearly liked it more after repeated listenings, after the riffs and hooks emerged from the bedlam of noise and the personality in the vocals had time to sink in. And the record is definitely punk in attitude, the vocals balanced between insouciance and confrontation. Teaming up with veteran punk producer Tim Kerr, this is the Dishes‘ rawest record yet and, once you get used to it, the sound suits them. For a band with an attitude this raw and aggressive, the murky, buzzing sound lends atmosphere, comparable to seeing them in a crowded, sweaty, moshing club versus pristine studio confines.
Still, this isn’t an early Ramones or Clash album, so the songs don’t all become classics after repeated listenings.
As with a lot of punk bands, these songs are better in theory than in practice. Ideally, this is the raw essence of rock, with everything stripped down to its raw components and the riffs, wiped clean of studio gloss, free to piledrive you into submission.
More specifically to the Dishes, female rock bands are still an idea whose time has, strangely, not yet come, at least not in the Top 40 charts. Especially given rock’s long history of endlessly recycling trends, there haven’t been that many female bands to really break into the mainstream while rocking really hard. I mean, the Go-Go’s were the first self-made female band of any kind to top the charts (And they wouldn’t have done it if they’d stayed the punks they started out as). Hole definitely went mainstream, sure, but Courtney Love was, at least in the media and probably to a lot of the consumers who made her big, associated with Kurt Cobain. For female bands of similar attitudes and comparable quality without chart-topping spouses, how many times have Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney hit the charts?
The Dishes are working from a similar perspective where sensuality is vigorously not associated with passivity, where the female narrator who is “At Your Fingers” (but not at your mercy, obviously) who commands, “Shut your eyes / Shut your mouth” and finishing off with, “Don’t stop!” In theory, I like the idea of feminist empowerment as being sexy. Instead of a rejection of sex as being a tool historically used to oppress women, bands like the Dishes are making sex their own. Such an aesthetic, one that revels in instinct and uses it as a means to empowerment, sure has a greater potential to connect with and inspire a greater number than an aesthetic where independence is pitted against hormones.
But I don’t like this record as much as I like the Dishes’ politics. To their credit, after the overly long (but not languid) jam that begins the album, the rest of the songs breeze by quickly without losing steam; the last two songs are just as strong as the second and third songs. The band rocks hard in a good-primitive way, but rarely as hard or well in their own songs as they do in their cover of “Action Woman” (“Use Your Arms” or “At Your Fingers” arguably both do, however). And their lyrics rarely signify as much as they do in the same ironic (?), genuinely horny (?) (both?) genderbender cover of “Action Woman” (“I’m gonna find me an action woman / To love me all the time”). Having more spark in either area, music or lyrics, might well have been enough to put the Dishes across. As it is, they are a sturdy, likable — but not lovable — band with the right idea.
The Dishes are part of one of the last rock revolutions still waiting in the wings, a cause with tremendous untapped potential that still has something left to prove (I mean, the Strokes proved even rich people could rock). Someday, one of these hard-rocking grrl bands, or at least one of their heirs, is really going to hit the big time — given the law of probabilities and our own hopefully increasingly unbiased society, how could one not? But, even if that day is only a few years in the offing, the Dishes probably aren’t going to be that band.