Somewhere there must be a funky old roadhouse where the Geraldine Fibbers are the band seven days a week, 365 days a year. Even if it exists only in the Fibbers' imaginations and those of their most ardent fans, it's a tiny place off the highway where you can't help but have a great
time, dance till you're sweaty, then pass out cold under the table. At some point in the evening, you'll probably have a sobbing fit in the bathroom
and a revelation about who you're loving 'cause that's the kind of raw, abandoned energy the Fibbers spit out in spades. They draw on intensity
from any and every source: hurt, joy, rage, loneliness, nostalgia, lust, loss, ecstasy -- and whatever else I've left out.
It's hard to draw a straight line between where the L.A. foursome's punk roots end and their country obsession begins. (Or should that be the other way around -- punk obsession and country roots? That's also hard to tell.) On their new, nearly perfect "Butch," both camps are equally represented. On the punk side, "Toybox" snarls out of the gate with a
thunderous crash, crunching like combat boots over a molten-lava groove that screams "Sabbath!" while Carla Bozulich spews and spits about daddies and speculums and cunts. "I Killed the Cookoo" follows, running quick and dirty on a quasi-speed metal guitar loop and ritalin drumbeat. On the other hand, there's the down-home "Folks Like Me," a resignedly woeful, Nashvillian tale of love that can't work built around Nels Cline's slide guitar, and the rootsily Appalachian-sounding "Pet Angel."
But more plentiful on "Butch" are the heavenly songs that don't fall cleanly in either camp. "Butch" floats almost wordlessly on ringing chords. "Arrow to My Drunken Eye" is a sketch in barely repressed anger framed by a ferocious cello and Bozulich's crooning screams. "Trashman in Furs" is wickedly strong and frighteningly fragile, a grungy lament with a determined electric bass line reverberating against a mournful acoustic bass
and the haunting line: "I have so much to tell you, I race through the sky to whisper a message into your morphine drip." "California Tuffy" -- perhaps the album's best track -- revs up on heavy guitar fuel and Kevin Fitzgerald's muscular drumming, but the sweetness of the melody, the deft strangeness of the lyrics ("You'll find me on my back, I crack,
once more. Yes, I am just a tart, a heart, on stilts. Pick a flower and it will wilt") and Bozulich's raggedy grace lift it out of the trad rock you might have thought was coming.
The unity of "Butch's" many musical parts can mainly be attributed to Bozulich's gravely, angelic instrument and her wondrous use of it. On the album's 14 songs, she envelops fury and egomania and love in the whirlwind of her scratchy siren. She's both violently vulnerable and aggressively afraid. She is the emcee of the Fibbers variety show and she won't lose your attention for one second. That's not to say that the band she plays with isn't hotter than hell -- without each other they'd be nothing. And without them in that funky old roadhouse, you'll just be getting drunk and sobbing without a higher purpose, or a saving grace, in sight.