Coming of age when Madonna was the reigning queen of pop, I have a hard time understanding how girls of my mother’s generation heard girl groups as revolutionary in the 1960s. Don’t get my wrong, I love the elegant Supremes, the honest Shirelles, the playful Ronnettes. When I was a high schooler experiencing my first crushes, these groups provided my theme songs. (I was anachronistic even as a child…) Now, when I want to momentarily cast off the bitterness of age for romantic sentimentality, there is still hardly a better soundtrack. But for me, ’60s girl groups always lacked a certain kick-ass quality that speaks to the anger love arouses. When my heart skips a beat when I see a crush, I want to send him the hospital bill for weakening such a vital organ. When he likes me back, I’m afraid he could disappear at any moment. When he dumps me, well, that one’s obvious…
So maybe I’m a little high-strung when it comes to love — that’s what my friends tell me. But I think all of us are familiar with these insecurities, and at least a part of us rents the object of our affection for it. Tied and True marries the sounds of the girl groups to the in-your-face independence of garage rock. It’s not the girl groups grown up. It’s the girl groups gone punk, and it sounds sentimental and sassy, codependent and independent, vulnerable and proud. The twin sides of teenagedom perfect for adults.
Lead singer Rachel Nagy’s voice does much to update the girl group sound. It’s a powerful one, and identifying with her as she sings her guts out makes the listener feel powerful. But perhaps the most important punkifying element is Mary Ramirez’s smoking guitar. Strings and horns dominated the girl groups’ instrumental world. Guitars were largely a toy reserved for boys and their rock and roll. What a joy it is, then, that an overdriven guitar cuts through the wall of sound to give Nagy’s vocals a powerful instrumental partner. Even better, it’s played by a woman. Sadly in this day and age, you still rarely see a woman playing lead guitar in rock and roll. It’s fitting that a woman would sieze guitar’s phallic power for the Cobras.
While this record is tremendous fun to listen to, it could be improved. The Cobras front-load the album with rockers, which get repetitious after the third song. Mixing in some of the slower numbers from later in the album could break it up a bit. Also, they haven’t quite got the mix right — Nagy’s vocals stand apart from her band, as if they’re singing from different rooms.
But it’s still one I’ll be coming back to, especially the next time some guy pisses me off by making me fall for him.