Golden Grrrls is a band in a hurry. Their debut full-length LP, “Golden Grrrls” (Slumberland Records, 2013), clocks in at under 30 minutes for everything, both sides. And with their power-pop approach, two of their new songs come in under 2 minutes, with eight more songs under 3 minutes, and only one song breaking into the “long-play” space at 3:08 minutes. This means that when the Grrrls play live, they can pretty well rip through their entire catalog super fast, under 45 minutes, unless they take time to talk to the audience, which they keep brief. That’s barely enough time to get to know them. You’ll have to buy the record so you can spend a little more time with their sound.
Of course, such is the territory of power pop. The genre survives because of its use of hooky rhythms and bouncy, playful themes. The 1970s and 1980s were full of power-pop bands providing what amounts to a generational soundtrack for those decades. Power pop is also a chameleon genre, absorbing other elements as it has grown and developed. It has to change or die. It doesn’t seem to burn out, it just changes shape and rolls in new elements to survive. Which is why, I think, the Grrrls’ live sound comes across as almost punk, thrashing and roaring as it does. Punk and glam rock found their way into the expanded definition of power pop years ago, so the punk edge fits. Bands like Cheap Trick took power pop into the mainstream (I know, I never thought I would mention Cheap Trick in any of my reviews). But roots are roots.
For me, it was the arrival of The Nerves in the 1970s that saved things. How many times has a band from Los Angeles saved modern music? Lots, probably, but that’s for another review. But once the mainstream saw what power pop did to fans, the genre seemed to be everywhere, and nowhere. It sold well. It showed up in the sound of bands like The Plimsouls, The Knack, and The Beat. (I know, now I’ve mentioned The Knack!) Lyrically, the messages seemed to stay the same. Boys and girls, love and lust. Thankfully, we don’t get as many songs about cars as we did then.
The point I want to make (citing these old power-pop dragons) is about production values. The Nerves’ sound, one of the best, is just as fast, built around a blazing guitar and speed, and their production was bright. Super bright. With “Golden Grrrls,” the sound seems muted, blunted, whatever. I almost wish they could find a happy medium between this fine first studio effort and their belt-sander live style. Lyrically, they’re there. Right in the power-pop zone with their boy/girl cheerfulness and harmonizing. It’s sweet. Maybe not that far from a kind of LA sound after all (the Grrrls hail from Glasgow, so well-done on the genre projection).
For me, the most interesting aspect of power pop, apart from its survival after so many years and mutations, and even punk as far as that goes, is what happens to artists who start out wanting to do songs at speed. It sets up a kind of emotional barrier, in my mind, to how far a song can go lyrically toward expressing the full emotional spectrum of life. It all sounds like dance music. I suppose you can dance to anything, but, generally, power pop deals with the flower of youth and young relationships, that kind of thing. He hates me; he loves me; she’s undecided; she’s jealous; he’s cheating. Or friendships. Or not knowing what to say in a new relationship. Or feeling old at 25. Now, that’s alright. As I said, it’s sweet. It’s what we all experience, then move on. It’s a self-focused world that expires quicker than you think, and it can almost be fully explored rather quickly by a band on one or two records. Too much and it can all sound “samey.” Audiences are fickle; they get bored and move on. In the end, I think power pop becomes a trap, forcing artists to leave it behind, or remain at their own peril.
That said, I’m impressed with the level of talent of Eilidh Rodgers, Ruari MacLean, and Rachel Aggs. Especially Rodgers. I have a bit of a thing for female drummers. Power pop often dazzles on the lead guitar, overshadowing everyone else. But with the Grrrls, Rodgers stays in the frame, driving the energy of these super-fast 11 songs as much as MacLean’s guitar does. And it sounds like they’re having a lot of fun doing what they do, dueling and chasing each other’s sound.
The power-pop path isn’t as easy as these bouncy songs suggest. Many have covered this ground. There are memories of past giants creating the style and sound back in the day. Even with all that baggage, the Grrrls have cut out a space for themselves with this frisky launch. The test will be what comes next. Perhaps they’re setting something in motion that will stand apart and be as defining, in time, as the past masters have done. Whatever happens, this is a fun record and worth a look. You’ll be getting in on the flash start with this band. But remember, they’re fast. Super fast. Don’t expect them to slow down for you, or to wait for you to catch up.