Valley of the Dolls
During her initial rise to fame in the 1980s, Brix Smith temporarily steered then-husband Mark E. Smith in a more commercial direction with The Fall. She’s also worked with everyone from Blondie drummer Clem Burke, The Smiths’ second guitarist Craig Gannon, and auditioned for Hole after the death of bassist Kristen Pfaff.
The influence of these disparate individuals can be heard feeding into her first solo album. Co-written by ex-Killing Joke bassist and acclaimed producer Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, she describes it as ‘a cross between The Breeders and Hole.’ It certainly bears their hallmarks in its big, crunching power chords and melodic post-punk harmonies.
More than anything, it makes you wonder what Hole would have gone on to produce if she had properly joined (she sort of did, for a “whirlwind” 24 hours). Her claim to have played “the wife, the whore, the maid, the doll” on ‘California Smile’ is more than a little Courtney Love, while the ‘very dystopian California’ atmosphere on the ten tracks has echoes of Celebrity Skin.
If the threat of being upstaged by another larger-than-life musician led to Love’s veto, then Smith is a natural collaborator. The album features guest turns from Susannah Hoffs (The Bangles) and Siobhan Fahey (Shakespears Sister), and she’s put together an all-female touring band that includes Deb Googe (My Bloody Valentine).
The collaborators and colourful history would overshadow most artists, but Smith sounds very much in her element. She may have been in the industry for four decades but hook-laden tracks such as ‘Valley Girl’ and ‘Fast Net’ have the grungy energy of a newcomer, even if she carries the disillusionment of someone who begs to be taken “from this place of pain” (‘Black Butterfly’).
Lyrically influenced by her early years growing up in California, but musically looking to a future where grunge never died, the album places her firmly back in a present where she can claim her dues.
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