REVIEW: Veruca Salt, Eight Arms to Hold You (Outpost)

-Eric Hsu

“I told you about the Seether before…” goes the middle section of “Volcano Girls”, “Here’s another clue if you please… the Seether’s Louise!” Throw in the Beatles reference in the title, and I took it as a sign that the band was going to take advantage of their initial success and explore musical frontiers. They had a hit with “Seether” by combining a grungy wall of fuzzy guitars with aggressive girl-group harmonies.

And in fact there are a number of rewarding songs, especially when they submerge the cliche grunge guitar and concentrate on the poppy catchiness and sharp harmonies: “Awesome” has a beautiful melody and striking chorus harmony, and “One Last Time” has yelling and dissonance that conveys an actual emotion. Throughtout there is some play with sound, some flange, some slide guitar, some undistorted guitar, whispering, some backwards guitar: at least an attempt at atmosphere, which is unfrotunately lost under the dual distorted guitars playing in unison.

The grunge sound and the constant harmonies (admittedly sharp) give the entire record an undistinctive homogeneous feel. You hear little hooks rising up, fighting against the fuzz, and some occasionally stick in your head. But it’s surrounded with a number of more average songs harder to like, whose real but less powerful charms are crushed under the waves of fuzz. In fact, it’s the use of fuzzed up guitars on the quieter songs that does the most damage to the album listening experience, because it really locks in the feeling of sameness. It’s distracting at best, numbing at worst. By the time you hit the last song, “Earthcrosser”, which begins with soft guitar and quiet vocals, you hold out a little hope that the inevitable wall of guitars won’t pile in, and when they do double volume, it almost sounds like a joke.

The first three songs use a metal-heavy sound on what are actually pretty good songs whose subtleties are somewhat buried in the heavy-handed arrangement. “Straight” is actually about wanting a boyfriend to stay straight, but at maximum volume it just sounds like an anonymous sneer. “Volcano Girls” also survives this treatment, and “Don’t Make Me Prove It” makes it too (barely), but the sequence is a little tiring.

I can see that they might want to avoid the trap of becoming tame acceptable female product, but their strengths unfortunately are towards the pop end and not the heavy end. There’s plenty of room between this record and pop fluff: it’s like finding the line between expressing a furious and real anger and incoherent screaming.

This record reminds me of Nirvana’s In Utero, on which Kurt Cobain felt like he had to adhere to the soft-loud grunge formula he pioneered. His next record was to be acoustic and more like the Unplugged segment. In some way I hope Veruca Salt’s next record is unplugged. They have lyrics that aren’t trivial, and a real flair for short, sharp, catchy pop songs with the occasional killer harmony. But the sound they’ve adopted really detracts from their many positives, and I come away from this record feeling exhausted and regret for wasted melodies and songs.

So, if you still like the grunge sound, you may like this record better than I did. The second side is significantly weaker than the first. The first five songs are the best, so sample those in your local record store, and don’t miss the sparkling “Awesome”.