Perhaps aiming to destroy the myth of the coy and demure "girl group," Sympathy for the Record Industry -- the stalwart independent rock 'n' roll label operated out of the Long Beach home of self-proclaimed "anti-mogul" Long Gone John -- has deigned to deliver this guide to the varied styles and sounds of female-led bands, a double CD comprised of selections from the label's nearly 600 releases (mostly 7-inch singles) spanning its 10 years of existence. As John insists in his liner notes, this is not a compilation -- those are for outtakes, duds, and throwaway songs. Rather, Alright, This Time, Just the Girls is more a sampling of the label's greatest hits. Both relatively big-name bands -- Hole, Red Aunts, Thee Headcoatees, Geraldine Fibbers, Free Kitten, and the Bags -- and obscure and short-lived groups are responsible for the 48 tracks that make up the 135-minute collection.
One of the label's most successful bands, L.A.'s Muffs, starts off with the infectious, heavy pop of their 1991 declaration "I Don't Like You." At the time, the fledgling two-girl-two-guy band bore as much sonic resemblance to Motsrhead as it did to the Shangri-Las, and this fuzz-drenched 2/4 freakout shows them at their finest. Detroit Cobras vocalist Rachel Nagy's sultry Grace Slick-meets-Leslie Gore strut on "Ain't Hittin' on Nothin' " is perfectly suited to her group's lovingly corrupted R&B; they make skilled use of distorted guitars played by dual guitarists who actually know how to form complete barre chords, and a rhythm section throbbing with pugilistic sexuality.
With the benefit of hindsight, the grating grit of Hole's first single, "Retard Girl," released by Sympathy in 1990, shows how far Courtney Love and company have come from their noisy, screaming-banshee roots. Elsewhere, Japan's wildcat garage rockers 5-6-7-8's give their instruments a vicious thrashing in order to "Bomb the Twist." Throughout, noisy girl groups like the Red Aunts, Free Kitten, the Lunachicks, and the Banana Erectors demonstrate that brawn isn't the key to powerful rock music -- it's inspiration.
But as Sympathy releases frequently assert, frenzied songs are only a part of the equation. Just as Holly Golightly's beguiling sneer drives the weary country sway of "Anyway You Like It," the Chubbies' charming sing-along classic pop on "When I Was Your Girlfriend" shows just how expressive female singers can be. Alright, This Time, Just the Girls effectively smashes the definition of girl groups, and proves that, regardless of gender, Long Gone John knows talent when he hears it.
-- Dave Clifford