With Courtney Love having shed her smeared lipstick and baby-doll dresses for Armani suits and a nice disposition, the rock world finds itself looking for a new punk princess, and the Muffs' Kim Shattuck just might fit the bill. While Shattuck's offstage antics may not be as entertaining or as well-publicized as Love's, her musical prowess merits at least as much attention.
Though the two women are often compared -- both hail from the same local scene, and Love's derision of Shattuck's bad bleach job inspired the title of the Muffs' 1995 album "Blonder and Blonder" -- Shattuck's onstage persona seems less contrived than Love's. Love has worked hard at being a bad accident waiting to happen, but Shattuck's rebellious nature is in her punk rock blood -- evidenced by her shredded screams in the songs "I'm A Dick" and "Red Eyed Troll."
For six years, the Muffs have been tinkering around the punk scene in Los Angeles, a town that usually connotes slick outfits and one-hit wonders.
Their live shows -- just as quick, clean and dirty as the band's records -- are a staple around those parts. And suffice it to say that they've got the pop-song thing nailed. It's harder than it looks -- the perfect pop song is a rarity these days, but the Muffs' follow-up to the polished punk of "Blonder and Blonder," "Happy Birthday to Me," is overflowing with three-minute gems.
With Shattuck at the helm on voice and guitar backed up by bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald, "Happy Birthday to Me" takes the listener on a blissful, blistering 45-minute joyride. The album's opener, "Crush Me," crashes out of the gate, spinning the Muffs' trademark combination of a deceptively simple three-chord song structure paired with fast-paced bubbly guitars and Shattuck's husky, honey-tinged vocals. These basic components, coupled with the band's ability to fuse naiveti and flippant sarcasm, make the Muffs more than your average bubble gum pop-punk band.
From "Pennywhore," a nod to the sappy country tune, to the relatively slower grind of "All Blue Baby," Shattuck and company manage to give each track it's own personality, leaving out any filler. "My Crazy Afternoon" is a free-spirited romp, with lazy rhythms and Shattuck's compelling harmonies. And the crunchy "Honeymoon," with its punchy bass line and Shattuck's raspy vocals, is perhaps the best two minutes of music the Muffs have ever recorded.
Though the band occasionally loses steam when the pace is slowed, as on "Upside Down," songs like "Happy Birthday to Me" are saved by sing-a-long melodies that feature Shattuck's distinctive purring and growling, making her sound like the bastard daughter of Joey Ramone and the girl next door. In "The Best Time Around," Shattuck baits the listener with a hook-filled verse, only to drop the nice girl act as she sings, "You're out there/you're groaning away like I care/you're never gonna learn it, I swear."
On the surface "All Blue Baby," could be a love-lost song, but once Shattuck opens her mouth and sings, "Yeah, it's a lovely sunny day and I wish you'd go away," all pleasantries end.
And just when things are getting too sugary, too nice, her gruffly sweet vocals slide into guttural yowls, punctuating the songs to remind us that yes, this is a punk band.