(Touch and Go, 1993)
Does anybody really do greasy, dirty charm like Girls Against Boys? Lead GvsB scum Scott McCloud comes on all up in your face, reeking of liquor, his combination talk-breathe-singing a heady vapor in whatever late-night establishment he intends to prowl. And the band plays like this urban predator (but NOT Predator 2 by any means), an act they embrace, but not before rubbing its nose in the grimy underbelly of punk and violent Chicago indie circa the late 1980s. Maybe it’s Touch and Go’s logo on the sleeve that helps to conjure that, I don’t know. The band is originally from Baltimore. I’m sure there’s grimy nightlife there as well.
I’d come to the band via later albums (House of GvsB) and soundtrack appearances (“Kill the Sexplayer” on the Clerks soundtrack, “Cruise Your New Baby Fly Self” on the Mallrats soundtrack – sue me, I had a Kevin Smith fetish, just like every burgeoning indie geek in high school in the mid-1990s), so I figured I’d dig a little deeper into their catalog to give myself a more well-rounded perspective. Turns out it was probably unnecessary unless I wanted to go all the way back to 1989’s Tropic of Scorpio – an album that, by all accounts, found the band in a more unrefined state. But Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby seems to be the de facto moment of release, when Girls Against Boys grew into themselves, defining their sound and their act into a gripping rush of driving noir-punk. The trademark attitude reared itself at this time, as well. And whether McCloud and crew wanted to be dicks or not, at this point they certainly came across as the overconfident, sneering, sexually-charged club scenesters who have a pretty short, pretty obvious agenda: 1) booze; 2) chicks.
I should mention that while the persona, song titles/lyrics, and delivery all lend themselves to how an outsider views the band, the unusual lineup featuring dual bass players wouldn’t, necessarily. When I’m prepping to listen to a band that features heavily the bass guitar, I tend to expect a loss of tunefulness, or even listenability, and Girls Against Boys take that stereotype and thrash it against the dance floor until it’s bloody and limp. See, Johnny Temple and Eli Janney wield their instruments to groove, drone, and pummel with swagger and ease, and do not overpower songs in some sort of proto-industrial fashion. There’s a smoothness and grace to how the basses interact with each other, and McCloud’s guitar screeches, preens, and howls, complimenting the low end perfectly and adding to the din.
Compare that to, say, their contemporaries like The Jesus Lizard, who also like down-and-dirty bass (although they only featured one of that instrument) and scrambled guitar shredding, and who also seemed to embrace the nightlife and its riches. Both bands feature mangled vocals and song-length double entendres (in GvsB’s case, here we have “In Like Flynn,” “Go Be Delighted,” and “Rockets Are Red”), but take a look at those frontmen – whereas McCloud comes off as a high-functioning alcoholic, scheming, self-obsessed, and carnally insatiable, David Yow hits the gutter with his approach, slobbering, teetering, belligerent, and, yes, carnally insatiable. McCloud knowingly winks in the martini haze, and he’s already bought another drink for you. Yow’s stripped to the waist and has thrown up on your shoes. So while it would make perfect sense for the two bands to share a bill, it’s pretty obvious where the divide lies. The line between smooth swagger and headlong destruction can be razor thin. But, man, Touch and Go had an eye for kamikaze art-punk in the late 1980s/early 1990s, didn’t they?
In the end, I wouldn’t bet against Girls Against Boys getting down and dirty if need be – “In Like Flynn” and “Go Be Delighted” open the album at full speed, and leave nothing to the imagination as to the aggressiveness of their sexual prowess. They’re stories of damaged individuals hopped up on greed and lust, and they’re looking for the equally damaged poised to participate in feats of willful self-destruction. “Let Me Come Down” and “Bulletproof Cupid” could land anywhere in the spectrum of the band’s career (except, maybe, on the limp Freak*on*ica), the latter in particular stirring the capital-G Groove portion of my prudish white-boy existence. It makes me want to dress nice and swing through the club scene with the best of them. (Tongue firmly in cheek and judging the hell out of everyone, of course.) “Rockets Are Red” features some real Stadium Riffage, enough that its opening bars could place it on an early Soundgarden album. (Yeah, really!) And the slower, darker numbers, like “Satin Down” or “Bug House” up the creep factor exponentially. On the former, McCloud is gross – picture almost sociopath gross – as he whispers in your ear, numerous cocktails and cigarettes in, “Excuse me, I’m not on this right now / I’m just not on drugs right now / I just wanna know what you’re like.” Try not to shiver. Or panic. And maybe get rid of that drink in case it’s been spiked with Rufinol.
This was just the beginning of the golden age GvsB, as the double triumphs Cruise Yourself and House of GvsB followed in 1995 and 1996, respectively. After that the timeline becomes much more lackluster, and reads: sign to Geffen, Freak*on*ica, break up band, reform band for 2002’s You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See. And they’re still existing in some capacity. McCloud and Temple formed the jazzier side project New Wet Kojak (I know, ew!), but doesn’t quite peak like the parent band. What you can be sure of is that Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby was where the awesome started. It’s a strong album front to back, and leers provocatively, menacingly, from a record crate or CD shelf near you, just begging to be played.
RIYL: The Jesus Lizard, Wire, Big Black, Sonic Youth
“BULLETPROOF CUPID (live)”