Love songs are often sappy. Even the greats from McCartney to Gibb (seriously) write from behind the rose colored glasses. But we all know that love is ugly and painful and obsessive. Mannequin Pussy’s new album Romantic approaches love from all angles: giddy love and anguished love; love that fills you up and love that eats you alive. It’s so explosively passionate and personal that it breathes new life into music’s most tired subject.
When Mannequin Pussy began in New York it consisted of two childhood friends: Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul. After adding Kaleen Reading and Bear, the band released their first album Gypsy Pervert, a 20-minute collection of fuzzy, sludgy diamonds in the rough (The LP was later reissued by Tiny Engines). Romantic finds Mannequin Pussy much cleaner, more developed and more cohesive.
Dabice’s frenzied vocals are Romantic’s focal point. She is unpredictable, delivering Courtney Love-esque power pop ballads, crooning confessionals and screams so frantic they might have scared GG Allin. With each track Dabice lashes between calm and mayhem. Every moan, every shout, every breath sounds wrenched from her emotional core.
The lyrics fluctuate, too. Sometimes they are affectionate. Sometimes they are anguished. On the choppy, punchy “Denial” she is all raw misery: “I want to feel the earth/ its crushingness/ as it wraps around my neck/ I’ve been feeling lately like I need to be alone.” “Emotional High,” by contrast, reveals the album’s pop sensibility. This is love in its lustful sincerity: “Everytime I want to call you no need to control myself/ And I wanted you to know darling/ if you’re lonely you know what you gotta do/ all you gotta do is call.”
Romantic has all the distorted energy of the band’s earlier work, but there’s greater control. Fuzzy guitars engulf ambling bass lines and distraught drumming. There’s a tinge of anxiety: the band is constantly on the verge of erupting into a delirious, angry mess. Songs like “Everything” and “Meatslave One” are straightforward punk with aggressive power chords and crashing drum lines. Others are less categorizable. “Anything” begins with slowly swelling acoustic chords, quiet, droning leads and bass drum beats. Then it morphs into saturated guitar spirals and muffled vocals, reminiscent of Goo era Sonic Youth.
On the album’s gorgeous title track, Dabice croons “I get along with everyone I meet/ I’m so sweet,” before trailing into a discordant mess of screams. Romantic is not always a sweet album. But according to Dabice, a romantic doesn’t have to be.
Listen to Romantic below and catch Mannequin Pussy this Wednesday at the Spit House here in Syracuse.