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Friday, June 1, 2012

The Slits, "Cut"

The Slits
Island (1979)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Society is fairly progressive today compared to back in the day. And yet girl groups still hardly get any respect. You would think that because culture has enjoyed black music from the earliest decades of the 20th century (despite its racist tendencies), it would be able to overcome its misogyny just long enough to appreciate an entirely-female band. With the exception of a few critically-acclaimed groups, such as Sleater-Kinney, we just haven't been able to get over the "Josie and The Pussycats" stereotype placed upon female bands. Punk music was a launching point for dozens of girl groups during the '70s thanks to its "anyone can do it" and "so what if it sells" attitudes. The Slits was the biggest name during the onset of girl-punk.

The band didn't pull any punches, lest anyone question the honesty of its intentions. Before you can even pop open the slipcase for "Cut," the band's debut, you're greeted with a picture of the group's three female members bare-chested and covered in mud for tribal effect. Vocalist Ariane "Ari Up" Forster also has no qualms about peppering the lyrics with obscenities, enough to compete with The Sex Pistols, which served as the figurehead for British punk at the time.

Songs such as "Love and Romance" and "FM" ("Frequent Mutilation" in this case) serve as satirical examinations of the titular subjects, in a similar approach to how the Dead Kennedys would use track titles the following year. "Shoplifting" also seems to be a precursor to DK's "Stealing People's Mail" in its short and punchy delivery during a narrative of minor crime.

The punk instrumental approach stops at "Shoplifting," however, which leads many to label The Slits as post-punk instead. The group takes the punk gang-vocal approach (popularized stateside by The Misfits) and develops it into a series of harmonies and overlapping vocal parts (most complex in "So Tough"). On the other hand, the instrumentals have a minimalist tendency. Whereas typical punk guitar is constant and driving, the playing of Viv Albertine is made up of short bits between breaks, not a steady riff.

The drumming of Peter "Budgie" Clarke (original female percussionist Paloma "Palmolive" Romero left the group after a tiff over the album's nude cover) is the most exciting element on the album. He plays straightforward rhythms, but frequently and uncomfortably (in a good way) changes riffs, most notably in "Typical Girls." The combination of Albertine and Budgie's styles results in what could be a called a "post-reggae" sound.

I'll grant you, there have been plenty of girl groups that live up to the stereotypes and don't contribute anything to the music world. The Slits is not one of them.

INTERESTING FACT: The Slits were tight in The Sex Pistols' "inner circle," and it's appropriate as Ari Up's stepfather is John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon.

Love und Romance by The Slits on Grooveshark

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