Thank Heaven

Things I remembered about the video, prior to rewatching it today: The shimmering red building in front of which the music-playing action takes place, and that “of course” moment where the viewer catches Louise Post & Nina Gordon separating from a just-completed kiss. Selling records was never not a hustle.

What I didn’t remember, or possibly just never saw — there’s a version floating around that features a lot more dismembered baby dolls — were the bits where Post & Gordon frolic and cavort in slips or white dresses, giggling and crying and (in case you forgot this was a video for an alternative rock band in the 90s) feeding each other what looks to be raw meat. In that context, the kiss takes on a slightly less prurient air & suggests our intrepid frontwomen are pretending to be at that age where young girls bond tightly with other girls and create their own cryptic orld with its own rules and traditions that are completely alien to outsiders. (I’m guessing there’s a proper academic term for this kind of social occurrence; all I can do, though, is mention that I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures a few times & take the scenic route to get to my point.) From what little I remember about Veruca Salt lore / gossip, Post & Gordon reportedly formed that kind of inseparable bond when they first met, which lead to the formation of the band, and (when that bond began to fray) ultimately lead to Post & Gordon going their separate ways.

This being the group’s first album, however, that bond and that insular girlish vibe is all over American Thighs. “Seether” walks the walk as much as any other track on the album, but given its relatively chipper mien and spry gate, it’s a bit of an outlier. It’s those very things that make this a song that almost anyone of a certain age and certain listening habits remembers, even if they didn’t realize Veruca Salt actually made three more albums after this. But when you disregard the four singles (especially “Victrola,” a shoddy “Seether” rewrite), this record takes on a totally different complexion.

The internet won’t corroborate this, but I’m pretty sure that snugglebunny Steve Albini, when talking about working with the band on their Blow It Out Your Ass EP, was impressed that there was more to the group than just some radio-friendly unit shiftiness. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) I’m also pretty sure he dropped Slint’s name when talking about the group’s sense of spacing and dynamics. There’s no real Spiderland moments anywhere in their discography — maybe the discordant “Disinherit,” from the aforementioned ass-blowing EP, comes closest — but most of Thighs finds Veruca Salt making like an honest-to-goodness (and heavy) slowcore band. It’s not a sound that would stick, of course; as they proved on their follow-up LP, Eight Arms To Hold You, all it takes is a drummer upgrade and some Bob Rock knob tweaks to turn a staid and somber track like “Spiderman ’79” into an arena rock behemoth like “One Last Time.”

An attitude adjustment doesn’t hurt, either. On Eight Arms‘ “Awesome,” Nina Gordon (in full-on self-referential “Glass Onion” mode throughout the entire album) says goodbye to 25, presumably referencing the 8-minute track that it essentially Thighs‘ closer; in its wake, the gorgeous “Sleeping Where I Want,” Thighs‘ actual finale (at least on CD), feels more like an epilogue than an actual conclusion. (“Sleeping Where I Want,” with its Guyville guitar tone, is also the one track that serves to remind listeners that Brad Wood produced the album.) The apotheosis of the album’s insular members-only vibe, its boots walk at their own somber funereal pace while its simple yet elusive lyrics employ images and allude to things — loss of innocence, sexual promiscuity, whatever else your own personal baggage highlights — that are never quite spelled out. It’s a tactic employed by most of these tracks, and it’s a tactic those with a less favorable perspective might see as a move cribbed from a dogeared copy of Kristin Hersh For Dummies. I prefer to see it, in combination with the music’s peculiarly slow gait, as a way for the group to carve out their own niche, positioning themselves as a just-right Baby Bear that fits snugly between the anger and aggression of your Hole / Babes In Toyland types and the more measured and thoughtful expression offered by the Breeders / Throwing Muses types. It’s definitely not the best of both those worlds — there’s often a little too much melo in their brand of drama, and the musicianship sometimes fails to do right by these downshifted songs — but as someone that had written this album off as a spotty top-heavy slog of a debut, I was surprised to find that there’s something interesting, if not peculiarly beautiful, in that slog.

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