L7 remind me of fried pork rinds, and I mean that in the best possible way. Listening to this Southern California female punk quartet delivers the same sort of naughty exhilaration as eating foods entirely lacking in nutritional content.
Part of what makes the band's fifth album, "The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum" so delicious is how unapologetically unwholesome it is. The unrepentantly upbeat "Off the Wagon" spells out this aesthetic -- not only does vocalist Donita Sparks vow to "hit every bar on the boulevard"
and request a "Jaegermeister IV," she's not going to apologize for her alcoholic aspirations, either. She gloats that her plan is a "bad idea, you're probably right, but I won't be a designated
driver tonight." This brash, boastful demeanor hides the fact that, like most of the songs on "The Beauty Process," the pro-substance abuse "Off The Wagon" is heavy on attitude, light on substance.
Which, on first listen, is refreshing. L7's "live for the moment because we may be embarrassed by this behavior tomorrow" attitude brings to mind the frenzied glee of late-night convenience store binges and is a welcome antidote to the apologetic mope-rock clogging alternative radio stations with all the appeal of overcooked broccoli. It's surprising to realize that "The Beauty Process" marks L7's 10-year anniversary. Many self-important, limp-vegetable bands have come and gone while L7 have placidly continued to thump out simple, streamlined punk albums, apparently giving no consideration to the future beyond who'll buy the next beer.
If L7's longevity was, in fact, carefully plotted, the music doesn't show it -- "The Beauty Process" reveals little growth since their 1990
Sub Pop debut, "Smell the Magic." Obviously, the band is capable of focusing its energies -- L7 founded the nonprofit organization Rock for Choice five years ago, and continue to play pro-choice benefits. But they maintain a "let's whip something together" approach toward recording, and the result is a bunch of upbeat, three-chord songs that are compelling, but disposable. As thrilling as "The Beauty Process" is, none of the songs has the depth or complexity to satisfy the listener beyond the initial junk-food high.
Maybe it has to do with where the band lives. Southern California strip malls, fast food joints and one-hour photo developing huts all seem to
have influenced the L7 sound. On "Bad Things," Sparks sings "the city plays its manic song/the city plays/I want to sing along" and you can just picture the women (bassist Jennifer Finch was recently replaced by Gail Greenwood of Belly) driving down an L.A. freeway in a convertible, smoking cigarettes to accelerate the effects of the smog, flipping off anyone who tries to pass into their lane. Other songs describe the self-absorption and aggrandizement ("I Need" and "Drama") abundant in the land of ego-massage and drive-through therapy. It's not surprising that
the music has no more permanence than the environment in which it was created. But sooner or later you'll need more than empty calories and fried air.