Lou Reed sang in 1969 that “no kinds of love are better than others” and I’m not inclined to agree–as Dante demonstrated in Purgatorio, there are plenty of variations on love gone awry–although I think what Lou really meant to say, more precisely, was that no acts of consensual fucking are better than others.
The Degenerettes (Baltimore’s all-girl, self-proclaimed “queer art rock power trio”) don’t sing about fucking. Not in the kitschy way that Elastica managed to make sound cool…there’s no songs about groupies or doing it in the backseat of a Camaro. Nor do they slosh around in the hyperbolic, gory detail that Babes in Toyland kind of scared you with, no “Swamp Pussy” or “Spanking Machine” here. The nastiest they get is the occasional jokey metaphor like “I want me an all-terrain girlfriend, mountains of desire, valleys of sin.” Given the cesspool of mindless sexuality on display on TV 24/7, that would have the Degenerettes splashing their feet somewhere in the shallow end. They don’t treat homosexual love with the kind of coquettish coyness that Kevin Barnes sometimes fantasizes about, and that’s certainly for the best because the last thing the world needs is another person writing songs like Kevin Barnes.
All of which describes what the Degenerettes don’t do, because in some ways it’s more interesting to write about than what they do do. They occasionally pretend to be bad girls, but underneath the façade is a collection of dirtied up Buddy Holly songs recorded on some primal equipment. The album’s linearity and brevity effectively captures a late 70s punk ethic, something even more bare bones than most of today’s noise-rockers (Vivian Girls, Wavves, et. al) because they don’t employ any effects of production.
As the feminine suffix tacked onto their mock-1960s girl group name might suggest, the songwriting is largely a throwback to a bygone era. Lyrical references to paranoia about the CIA and dancing with mummies evoke those years with a B movie camp that is distinctly Baltimorean. Elsewhere the record passes from retro to downright conservative. “Truck Drivin’Girlfriend,” if not directed from one girl to another, could well be a country-rock song title. The Smiths’ “Ask,” which appears in trimmed-down fashion, is a vignette for anyone of any sexual orientation who has brushed with unrequited love. But the Degenerettes render Morrissey’s originally hopeless lament into an unembellished statement of purpose. Bad Girls Go to Hell never slides into romanticism, matter-of-factly tumbling through songs like “Queer for You” and telling an ex-lover to get over themselves in “Get Out.”
Like a gay Beat Happening, the Degenerettes play raw and repetitive songs, with a childlike mix of shamelessness and innocence. But instead of making heterosexuality weird, Bad Girls go to Hell pulls off a strange trick: it makes homosexuality mundane. For better or worse, they successfully normalize the usually subversive tone of campy queer music. The Degenerettes are to be commended for never falling into stereotype or sensationalism, but the tracks that are specifically about lesbian love are rendered somewhat bland. Perhaps that’s a positive effect, because a good record oughtn’t pander to those same stereotypes. It does need to be musically captivating, or if that’s not an immediate option it can hope to inspire critical discussion. This album, for me at least, falls more in the latter category, and for that purpose it’s been quite good.
Label: Creative Capitalism
Release date: June 2009
01 Truck Drivin Girlfriend
02 I Was A Teenybopper For The CIA
03 Never Say Never
04 Fell In Love With A Mummy
05 Queer For You
06 Shake Baby Shake
07 Get Out
09 College Type Jo
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