Heart Throbs - Cleopatra Grip
Generally speaking, I have found female fronted bands of the last decade or so to be lacking something. The vocalists with bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metric, Joy Formidable, Blood Red Shoes, all seem to sound the same - a short of shouty anonymity which is as deficient in true power as it is in character. If you want to hear a voice which has both of those, it might help to go back to the late eighties and early nineties. Rose Carlotti's voice has a character of its own and, when combined with the themes of many of the songs, is reminiscent of Lesley Woods of Au Pairs fame a decade before.
It may not come as a surprise that the Heart Throbs songs display a feminine perspective. While it might be a step too far to call this a feminist album, much about it, even the title, displays that perspective. (For those of you who don't know, the Cleopatra Grip is the name given to the muscular contractions of the vaginal wall during orgasm). But this should not put off even the most macho knuckle-dragger from finding something here to enjoy.
The music is a combination of punk influenced guitars, a touch of the shoegaze-inspired effects, a dollop of danceable rhythms and an overall feel that presages the Britpop of bands such as Oasis, Blur and Suede. Yet despite these comparisons, Cleopatra Grip is none of these things and has a sophistication which makes comparison with a band whose song writing talents stretched no further than "Itchin' in the kitchen" unfair. Yet it is all and none of those things at the same time and this makes comparisons with virtually anyone else somewhat redundant.
The album's two stand out tracks are "Dreamtime" and "In Vain". The former is a song full of longing and regret, powered by a mesmerising keyboard line. The latter has a slow burn about it as it grows in frustration and anger and eventually ends in a crashing sound of fuzzy guitars and feedback. Other highlights include the acoustic ballad, "White Laughter", which closes the album out and "Kiss Me When I'm Starving" which has a seductive yet sinister feel to it. Other tracks on the album can sometimes be a tad forgettable and merge one into the other to form a kind of background music, punctuated only by the occasional moment of passion in Rose Carlotti's voice, or a change in tempo or volume from the guitars.
If I had a substantive criticism it would be to say that the album seems somewhat overproduced at times. Martin Hannet, the knob-twiddler behind all this, was one of the foremost producers of the eighties, but he may have overdone it here in pushing the vocals back too much and the guitars too far forward. Still, complaints aside, this is an album worth tracking down if you would like to hear a unique sound from the nineties. This should be mandatory listening for all the female fronted bands of the last ten years.
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