Chainsaw Kittens – Pop Heiress

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

It’s a good sign when you have a hard time determining which of a band’s records is their best. Sometimes, the choice is obvious:  Revolver is clearly the best Beatles album; Exile is undeniably the top Stones platter; The Queen Is Dead is the Smiths’ unchallenged masterpiece; and the Cure never topped Disintegration. All four of the Chainsaw Kittens albums I own are very strong, and each provides a different experience. Gun to my head, I’d have to say this is the most consistent, best sounding, and most fun of the Kittens’ work.

What I Think of This Album

The third proper Kittens album opens with some reassuring guitar noise, a cascade of drums, and an otherworldly yooooooooowwwwwwwl from Tyson Meade. Apparently a holdover from the Mark Metzger days, “Sore On the Floor” is part of the last, furious gasp of the old Kittens. Most of the rest of the album is quieter in comparison, with a much greater emphasis on melody, careful and clever arrangements, glossy production, and refined glam-pop sound. This album should have been HUGE in the post-Nirvana era. I don’t fucking get it, but I am so wrong about so many things, I can’t expect anything different. Whatever – I love this album.

What fascinates me is how the band managed to arrive at this point. The three releases after Violent Religion – two EPs (High In High School and Angel On the Range) and an intervening sophomore album, Flipped Out in Singapore – did not really hint at this direction, and if anything, suggested a path involving more volume and less melody. I don’t actually care for any of those efforts, though there are some good songs, of course.

Pop Heiress, though, is a cross-dressing horse of a completely different color. The pop of the title shines on “Loneliest China Place,” its crunchy dynamics augmented by organ figures, a banjo, and giddy handclaps, with Trent Bell doing a wonderful job on guitar (the flanged outro is amazing). The band pummels its way through the glitzy “Pop Heiress Dies,” with a killer lead guitar line, pumping bass, and dramatic vocals from Meade. Rushing “Silver Millionaire” is relatively light-hearted, but no less a delectable pop nugget for it, with Meade glamming it up like sequins are about to be banned from the thrift shop.

The equal parts gritty and shiny “Media Star Hymn” rides Bell’s guitar lines and Meade’s emphatic, impassioned vocals to a higher plane – “astonish me,” indeed. Elsewhere, “I Ride Free” is a fun and campy T. Rex pastiche. “Justine Finds Heaven” stomps around in platform boots; Meade, of course, delivers another excellent vocal performance here. “Burn You Down” is, like “Sore,” reminiscent of the early days, with Meade sacrificing his vocal cords while Bell leads the band through thrilling sonic maneuvers (the gong is pretty funny). The same is true of “Closet Song,” but the songwriting is much more refined on these harder tracks than it was on Violent Religion, with better musicianship as well.

There are three slower songs, mostly very successful. “Dive Into the Sea” relies on a shark-like distorted lead part from Bell, guest piano and cello, and a typically theatrical performance from Meade. On the other hand, “Soldier On My Shoulder,” is the only stumble, a spare acoustic ballad that doesn’t go anywhere. And lengthy, languorous closer “We’re Like” is like bathing in syrup – a slow, memorable experience that leaves you transformed and speechless. Meade, it almost doesn’t need to be said again, dominates with his vocals on this stunning piece.

The band thanks Magnapop and Flop (I think – they use abbreviations) in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

While Meade’s voice is an amazing thing, and the melodies here are first-rate, I am going to give props to Trent Bell’s guitar work.

Release Date

March, 1994

The Cover Art

I don’t get the continued interest in Patty Hearst, but I do appreciate how the band adapted the SLA’s logo by adding claws to it. I like the color scheme and photo-negative-ish appearance.

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