Music » Record Reviews

Short Cuts

A legendary band returns with the reissue of the year.


Finally, an answer to that persistent musical question: What if the Ramones had been Swiss art-school babes? With 46 songs spread over two CDs, LiLiPUT contains the complete recorded history of a legendary, all-women punk band -- first called Kleenex, then changed to LiLiPUT after the tissue company threatened legal action -- whose influence has been much broader than the actual reach of their music.

Formed in Zurich in the late Seventies, the band changed mightily during its five-year history, with guitarist Marlene Marder and bassist/vocalist Klaudia Schiff as the only mainstays. The band went through three lead singers: Regula Sing, with her deep, Germanic voice; the young Chrigle Freund, with her higher-pitched, more energetic style; and finally Astrid Spirit, who brought a smoother, more loungy sound to the band.

Only the band's first album, also titled LiLiPUT, was previously released in the United States. This complete collection was briefly available, in 1993, as a Swiss import before going out of print, and copies have been so rare and sought after in the intervening years that they have reportedly sold for hundreds of dollars at auction.

It makes sense that this music would finally get its due in the U.S. through Olympia's Kill Rock Stars, the punk label that grew up around Nineties riot-grrl icons Bikini Kill. LiLiPUT's music is proto-riot-grrl if anything is, the clearest source of the sound and spirit Kill Rock Stars has made its mark with. And this would seem an ideal time to reintroduce LiLiPUT to the world, with bands like Le Tigre and Chicks on Speed making music with the same kind of experimentation and exuberance.

The band's music leavens the guitar aggression of early punk in favor of a spare, jumpy, percussive sound. The English lyrics were partially composed by finding words in the dictionary that were close to what the band wanted to say and partly by finding words that just sounded right. And the vocals are from another planet -- full of interaction and sonic juxtapositions and the kind of nonsense syllables that form a wilder, artier kind of doo-wop. The band sometimes seems to be singing in its own language. This mix results in bouncy bohemian party music masquerading as intense self-discovery and vice versa. The critic Greil Marcus once wrote, with great accuracy, that each of LiLiPUT's songs sounds like a manifesto and a mud fight.

The second disc of this collection covers the last lineup of the band, with Astrid Spirit as lead singer, and contains the band's two official albums -- LiLiPUT and Some Songs -- in their entirety and the single "The Jatz"/"You Did It." This music is strong, but is mellower and moodier than the earlier material and doesn't strike with the same in-your-face force.

But the early singles captured on disc one are revelatory. The opening "Nighttoad" sets the tone, with Regula Sing intoning, "Give yourself lust and try it again," and Schiff shouting encouragement in the background ("Come on!").

"Ain't You" is the band's first single and also its sure shot. On the surface it sounds like a song about sex, but listen closer and it's an ode to listening to the radio. A tinny guitar riff jockeys for space with a barrage of power chords. Drums crash all around, and Sing offers broken-English instructions: "Take your radio in your life/Take your radio in your love/Push it in and push it out/Push it out and push it in" (that last presumably about the on/off button and tuning dial on the radio), while her bandmates rise from the din to belt out the most invigorating pop- music call to arms I've ever heard: "AIN'T YOU WANNA GET IT ON?" It sounds like a riot breaking out. It sounds like the last day of school -- and every single second of disc one lives up to its promise.

The band catches you off-guard with weird, fun, exuberant noise at every turn. "Krimi" opens with a guitar riff that could be Black Sabbath, then punctuates it with wild, girlish screams and groans. There is the shouted "EE, EE" that bops through the sing-a-long "Headis Head." "Split," the first song with Freund on lead vocals, boasts deliriously chaotic group singing and adds some X-Ray Spex-style sax, a shout of "WOO, WOO, WOO, WOO" periodically bursting out of the mix. "Eisiger Wind" juxtaposes classic-rock guitar with girl-group handclaps then bounces vocals against each other like proto-Run-DMC or Beastie Boys. "Die Matrosen" thrills with a whistled chorus that -- outside of Otis Redding's grand coda to "Dock of the Bay" -- is the greatest use of pucker-and-blow in rock-and-roll history. "Hitch-Hike" even adds a tone of menace to their sound, with lyrics like, "She had no money to pay the train" and "Don't touch me let me be," and has the audacity to use the sound of a rape whistle as the song's hook.

The best of LiLiPUT communicates an exhilarating sense of discovery and freedom and joy -- a sound you can hear in great doo-wop and girl groups and Chuck Berry and Little Richard, in other early punk and hip- hop singles and mid-Seventies Springsteen and the new Outkast and precious little else.

Quality Craftsmanship fans and old-in-the-mind farts might listen to this music and think I'm nuts, but I'll swear on a pile of Stax and Sun singles that this music, at least the early songs captured on disc one, is among the most essential and life-affirming rock-and-roll ever recorded. This is music I'll wean my kids on someday. I'll have a 3-year-old galloping around the house screaming, "AIN'T YOU WANNA GET IT ON?" -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A (Disc 1 A+/Disc 2 A-)

Mission Accomplished

Tricky (Anti-/Epitaph)

Arriving at the dawn of electronica hype, Tricky's 1995 debut album, Maxinquaye, was one of the decade's dozen or so masterpieces. Combining hip hop, funk, and techno in a uniquely personal mix, Maxinquaye was dystopian dreamscape but still instantly accessible. There seemed no question then that we were witnessing the arrival of a major career artist, a postmodern music maker who made Beck sound like a dilettante in the Prince-of-the-Nineties sweepstakes. But it's been all downhill from there. All the music Tricky has made since has been artistically worthwhile but increasingly hard to listen to, and his commercial prospects have diminished accordingly.

With Mission Accomplished, a four-song, 16-minute EP for new indie label Anti- (also the home of other commercially marginal prestige artists Tom Waits and Merle Haggard), Tricky is starting over. This brief reintroduction opens with the industrialized clatter of the title song, which deploys the vocal hook from Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" ("Big time/I'm on my way/I'm making it") in a move that could be either sardonic, given the artist's increasing obscurity, or hopeful, given the sense of freedom that may result from his parting ways with major label Polygram.

As for the rest, "Crazy Claws" and "Tricky Vs. Lync" explore the British beat master's hip-hop obsession with solid if unexceptional results, and the closing anti-Polygram diatribe "Divine Comedy" closes the door (please) on his biz-centered vendettas.

Mission Accomplished is an undeniably minor work on its own terms, but one hopes this is a throat-clearing exercise for better things to come. -- CH

Grade: B

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