Girls ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’ – Review

19 Sep

There is a great contradiction between the band Girls want to be and the band they are. They want to be accepted by the mainstream, they want to be ‘normal’; their songs have classic production, classic chord progressions and classic melodies. Lyrically they deal with traditional pop fodder – broken hearts and loneliness. On their debut they ate up old and accepted genres at a manic rate, whether it was shoegaze (‘Morning Light’) surf rock (‘Big Bad Mean Motherf**cker’), country (‘Hellhole Ratrace’) or baroque pop (‘Lauren Marie’). It was as if they were on a quest to find a suitable and loving home. Google the name of their debut and it will be a while before you find what you want – better still try googling their band name –  impossible! Everything they do points to a band that wants to fade into the background, that wants to be accepted. Their desire of normality is understandable, but unfortunately for them everything to do with Girls is abnormal. Everything from singer Christopher Owens back story (he was raised in a cult by a mother who prostituted herself, then spiraled into hardcore drug addiction, before being rescued by a famous country singer – y’know, not really ‘the usual’), to their amazing, amazing music displays a band who are anything but normal. For all their flaws, perhaps because of all their flaws, they are a very special band indeed.

And a very productive one – ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’ is their third album in as many years (if you’re including the 6 track ‘Broken Dreams Club’) and the next two are apparently ready to go. But this is only fitting of a band whose heart belongs in another era. When they arrived with ‘Lust For Life’, and one of the most arresting opening lines of recent times (‘I wish I had a boyfriend…’) Girls appeared to be as punk, cool and cutting edge as any new band I could think of. Their debut confirmed this; no attention was really payed to production values, censoring lyrics,  hiding the drug references or keeping songs to a traditional length; but at its heart ‘Album’ was steeped in pop history and every song recalled a different one of my favourite groups and genres. They cleaned up their act for ‘Broken Dreams Club’ and this new album is even more polished and radio ready. It’s still individual and they still do things completely their own way, but overall this is a more traditional sounding album, one less willing to shock or agitate.

I’m not sure how I really feel about this – they aren’t as subversive or as interesting as they were in 2009, but at the same time the songwriting has improved ten-fold, the production is now note perfect, and most notably, Owens is now a much, much better singer. On album stand out ‘Jamie Marie’, a beautiful song in which he pours his heart out over some lovely guitar playing, his voice is able to sell the simple lyrics, and despite the minimal musical acompliment it’s a truly captivating song. Occasionally the flaws of his voice grate, but rather than rely on his own set of pipes all the time he is now often helped out by gospel backing singers. ‘Vomit’ is one of a few tracks that progresses into an organ led, gospel freak out towards its climax. Like many songs on ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, ‘Vomit’ is epic to the point of indulgence, repetitive to the point of irritation and melodramatic to the point of narcissism. The fact that Girls are able to pull it off despite its obvious flaws proves just how endearing they have become.

Owens’ two best traits as a songwriter are his honesty and his personality. His statements are to the point, and simple in a childlike way; they aren’t as striking as they once were, but his individuality still shines through. On ‘Forgiveness’ he sings about his troubled relationship with his family when he says ‘I’ll have to forgive you, if we’re ever gonna move on.’ A couple of the other songs also deal with his family relationships, most notably ‘My Ma’ and the bubbly opener ‘Honey Boney’ in which Owens remembers being loved by his mother as a child, and longs for a future where he is loved by somebody else with as much conviction.

Aside from the stark naked emotional content, my next favourite thing about Girls, and particularly this album, is their astonishing attention to detail. Check out the carpenters-esque fuzztone guitar solo on ‘My Ma’ that comes EXACTLY where you want to. Check out how PERFECT the thrash riff on ‘Die’ is, so perfect you’ll swear you’ve heard it somewhere before, but haven’t. Check out the pauses for breath in ‘Love Like a River’, the string arrangement in ‘Just a Song’ and the country guitar harmonising in ‘Magic’. Girls simply know their stuff, their references are immaculate and yet they always deliver their songs with just enough originality and personality to not come across as blatant musical thieves. With anyone else it would be called, at best homage, at worst pastiche (maybe even parody), but with Girls they it just comes across as natural and honest.

In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Owens told the interviewer that he approached Justin Beiber to become the new singer for the band. He claimed that he would be happy to write songs for the teen popstar whilst he himself faded into the background. He also swore that if Beyonce covered and released ‘Love Like a River’ as a single it would become a number one hit. Girls mainstream ambitions are admirable enough, and there is no reason my ‘Love Like a River’ shouldn’t be a big hit, but Girls make these songs great in a way that Beyonce or Beiber couldn’t. Yes, they are traditional, well crafted songs in many respects, but the aspects that make them stand out are the oddities, the attention to detail and the glimpses of real-life personality that mainstream stars like Justin Beaver just couldn’t convey. Girls sell these songs with complete and utter conviction – few other contemporary bands are as overflowing with such charisma and charm, and worryingly for their rivals they show now sign of slowing down. And as good ‘As Father, Son, Holy Ghost is’ there are still plenty of signs that Girls are improving and developing all the time – I wouldn’t be surprised if their best is still to come.

8.5/10

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