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Babes In Toyland

  • Spanking Machine,
  • To Mother,
  • Fontanelle,

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    Babes In Toyland

    Related Artists - Kittie, The Slits, PJ Harvey
    Related Genres - Alternative

    Spanking Machine 9 ( 1990 )
    Swamp Pussy / He's My Thing / Vomit Heart / Never / Boto (W) Rap / Dogg / Pain In My Heart / Lashes / You're Right / Dust Cake Boy / Fork Down Throat

    Thinking about it for a second, I should write an essay someday about how Nirvana ruined an extremely healthy american underground scene. The late eighties and very early nineties saw all sorts of truly amazing bands come out of the american underground. New bands that were truly vital, bands such as Mudhoney, Bikini Kill, Polvo, etc, etc. The legacy of grunge was that many of these bands were swept away in the rush to sign to major labels and earn money. One such move around 1994/1995 ended Babes In Toyland's career. They released one disappointing final studio album, and that was that. Not too many people seem to know of the band today. Lots of people know about Courtney Love and Hole. You're wondering aren't you, 'what's courtney got to do with it?' Well, Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland were once in the same band together circa mid-eighties. Rumours have abounded throughout the years as to who inspired who. One listen to 'Spanking Machine', released a full year before the debut Hole release, should settle all doubts. 'Spanking Machine' is more intense, more listenable, unsettling and far more exciting, all at the same time, than any Hole album could even dream of being. This is the real deal. At the time, and yes, I was lucky enough to get 'Spanking Machine' pretty much upon its original release, there seemed to be such an influx of great new bands. I didn't realise that groups like Babes In Toyland and the equally seminal Come would actually be groups that still tower over even the finest of todays new groups. Babes In Toyland 'Spanking Machine' casts a long shadow over the commercialized garage rock ( garage POP, in reality ) of much of the output of groups such as The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes, etc, etc.

    'Spanking Machine' is an album with pounding, tribal and ever so loud drums. The bass adds the required depth. Kat sings and plays guitar. The guitar is often strangely pretty in amongst the darkness and aggression many of the songs create. Then, we have the voice of Kat. Well, i've never heard such a powerful scream coming from any female vocalist before in my entire life. From a whisper to a scream, in the matter of seconds. Such contrasts, added to the tribal thing going on, led early reviewers of Babes In Toyland to compare them to The Birthday Party ( Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, etc, etc ) and it's a valid comparison. Far from being the 'Riot Grrl' thing, 'Spanking Machine' is raw, loud, exciting, dark and most importantly, so genuine sounding you start to wonder that the screams won't cause drips of blood to pour down your hi-fi and through your floorboards, etc, etc. Yet, there is almost a perverse prettiness to some of the guitar lines in places. It's weird and not something I can quite describe. A song such as 'Vomit Heart' has a thrilling vocal from Kat and quite startling poundingly loud drums. Lori on drums, Michelle on bass. Lori sings one song rather than Kat, 'Dogg'. Her voice is clearly, um, untrained, ha-ha! Yet, there is something so real sounding about the song and her gritty vocal that really brings the song to life. In truth, mentioning a mere few highlights from this truly seminal record is to do it an injustice. Just let me make it clear that this isn't an album you're going to easily get into on a first listen, but it is hopefully an album that's going to stay with you. 'Lashes' and 'Dust Cake Boy' are songs of the like i'd never heard before and still haven't quite heard the like of since. Famed Radio One DJ guru of cool, John Peel, named 'Spanking Machine' his favourite album of 1990. It was a good choice.

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    To Mother 8 77/100 ( 1991 )
    Catatonic / Mad Pilot / Primus / Laugh My Head Off / Spit To See The Shine / Ripe / The Quiet Room

    Babes In Toyland quickly record a mini-album in england to follow-up their acclaimed debut, 'Spanking Machine'. A difference between this and that is immediately noticeable. 'To Mother' has a thin sounding mix, a cheap sounding mix. It does take away slightly from the power of the songs. Yet, these seven songs are still good songs. Babes In Toyland still present something unique here, let's take 'The Quiet Room'. An instrumental, actually helped by the mix this time perhaps, it takes on a ghostly sound. Just an electric guitar playing a particular repeating melody. It's a touch of beauty after what has gone before, six songs furious, poppy and rip-roaring. Kat lets rip all through the opening 'Catatonic', the usual Babes In Toyland medieval mix of lyrics, added to deep dark slow music, speeding up. Speeding up, then suddenly, the screaming. The screaming and torment and the sheer excitement. We're slightly getting ahead of ourselves, but even as early as this, Babes In Toyland knew they had an audience. 'Spanking Machine' had made ripples, pricked up ears. Guys were screaming and singing along in time to Kat. I mean, we later had riot grrl, but Babes In Toyland, lyrically, had nothing in common with that later scene. They weren't about girl power, they just were. They were angry and the songs here sound angry.

    'Laugh My Head Off' is supreme. When Babes In Toyland later signed to a major label, they didn't connect with what their label bosses wanted from them. Or perhaps, they did, but in doing so, alienated their existing audience. If 'To Mother' had been 'Babes In Toyland' major label debut, albeit with a few songs added, of course, i'm sure nobody would have had much to complain about. 'Spit To See The Shine' is a grinding shouted blues, 'Primus' is sung by Lori, the drummer. It's not quite as good as the song she had from 'Spanking Machine', yet, she does this well. A singing drummer? Meg from The White Stripes can't sing or sound as real as Lori does. Not half the drummer Lori is, either. You don't want to argue with Lori! And, that's pretty much it. 'To Mother' simply kept the momentum going. It kept it going in fine style.

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    Fontanelle 8 82/100 ( 1992 )
    Bruise Violet / Right Now / Bluebell / Handsome & Gretel / Blood / Magick Flute / Won't Tell / Quiet Room / Spun / [untitled] / Jungle Train / Pearl / Real Eyes / Mother / Gone

    John Peel had enough listeners to propel Babes In Toyland's 3rd album 'Fontanelle' into the UK top 30. Released on a major label in the US, an indie in Europe and produced by Lee Ronaldo of Sonic Youth, events certainly appeared to be moving into place to set Babes In Toyland up for a lengthy career. 'Fontanelle' repeats the formula of the 1st two albums but lacks the satisfying crunchiness that Jack Endino brought to the table when he produced 'Spanking Machine'. Rather 'Fontanelle' is an elongated version of 'To Mother' with all that implies. As many good songs, if not slightly more. Naturally, more moments of filler although such moments are surprisingly short. I still have my LP copy of 'Fontanelle' incidentally, which arrived on red vinyl. Listeners to John Peel circa 1992 still remember such songs as 'Handsome And Gretel', 'Spun' and 'Bruise Violet' whether they purchased the LP or not. As such, i'll briefly go into these three highlights first of all. Drumming pre-dating White Stripes, Kat suitably spiteful with her vocals I hope your insides ROT! she sings in a way only she can. You got your stories all twisted up with mine - well, who could that be? Courtney? Who cares, 'Bruise Violet' is an entertaining LP opener and no mistake. The 'radio-hit' ( ha,ha ) that is 'Handsome And Gretel' along with 'Spun' are two songs featuring perhaps the most astonishing Kat vocals of all. The growling and grinding and yelling followed by the laughter and spooky sinister spoken word during 'Handsome And Gretel' quickly made it a fans favourite. 'Spun' moving from quiet to loud to groovy all over made it a fans pick on the LP. also.

    I never thought you'd explode tonight goes the beginning of 'Blood', a great opening line and no mistake. GOOD GOD! she sings and all is well. 'The Quiet Room' is a delicate instrumental providing welcome medieval relief, the run of songs from the astonishing mashed up grind of 'Jungle Train' through to the closing 'Gone' which is just Kat plus guitar singing the blues whilst plates are smashed.... is as good a run of songs as anywhere else on the LP. A very strong LP, a good follow-up proper to 'Spanking Machine' yet the girls were unable to keep up such a standard, sadly.

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    this page last updated 24/02/07

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