April 29, 2019 L7 – Scatter the Rats (Album Review)
Los Angeles foursome L7 are set to release their seventh album, Scatter the Rats, on May 3rd through Blackheart Records; the legendary label started by Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna nearly forty years ago.
Founded in the mid-Eighties by Guitarists Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner, L7 was quickly filled out by Bassist Jennifer Finch and Drummer Roy Koutsky joining in time to record a self-titled debut in 1988. Koutsky was soon replaced by Anne Anderson, then Demetra “Dee” Plakas, forming the classic L7 lineup that was in place for three more albums—Smell the Magic (1990), Bricks Are Heavy (1992), and Hungry for Stink (1994). Finch then departed, with Gail Greenwood and then Janis Tanaka taking stabs before the band went on hiatus in 2001.
A series of overt social media campaigns helped fund the Documentary Pretend We’re Dead, helmed largely by Gardner, and a series of semi-reunion dates followed. “The fans have blown life into these corpses,” Sparks told The Guardian in the spring of 2015, on the eve of an appearance at the Download Festival. Thereafter, new recordings came in the form of two singles, “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago” and “I Came Back to Bitch,” both released through New Jersey label Don Giovanni Records.
Which leads us to present day with their comeback full-length, Scatter the Rats. Eleven songs in total, it beings with “Burn Baby,” a testament to letting bygones be bygones, even while getting one or three last little needles into your former nemesis. The loose choral allusion to burning witches at the stake could be taken as a subtle glance in the direction of the band’s outsider status, never quite finding a permanent home in the Grunge, Riot Grrrl, or Heavy Metal camps.
The band recorded a video for this opening single, featuring, among other jewels, Sparks and a barefoot Finch popping into the air in unison, with Suzi Gardner shredding behind her trademark sunglasses and Plakas holding down the fort.
A great way to kick things off, in whole, Scatter the Rats has an honest, harsh garage sound to it, mixing crisp drum beats from Plakas with the dual guitar fuzz of Gardner and Sparks, while Finch makes sure her bass plods along at just the right volumes (both aural and empirical). Most tracks feature a multitude of rhythms for finger-snapping or head-banging; the aggressive listener can thrash along with every beat, while the more laid back in the crowd can take a lower approach while still showing interest, and though Scatter the Rats may not be as heavy as previous albums, the seething anger underneath the delivery is still as present as ever.
The songs rarely stretch past the four-minute mark, and some are lucky to pass three, which means brisk efforts like “Stadium West” last just long enough to embed a Surfer Rock earworm before the decrepit dust of “Murky Water Cafe” (with its “free wifi”) erases the slate and offers an obvious critique of a social media world.
The vocal work from Sparks and Gardner is a little more strained this time around, even by L7 standards; tracks like “Garbage Truck” and “Uppin’ the Ice” have a little more studio polish than one would have expected during the band’s heyday. The two tracks are divided by “Holding Pattern,” which is almost light-hearted and airy, and manages to keep a slow, jaunty beat among the faster numbers around it. This is while “Cool About Easy” is perhaps the strongest pull back to band’s peak amidst the Grunge scene of the ’90s.
Lastly, the album closes with the title-track, which Sparks attributes to Producer Norm Block: The ladies stated, “There were a couple of rats in the basement of the studio, where all the amplifiers were, and at one point Norm said to us, ‘Let’s get rockin’; we can scatter the rats.‘” Perhaps ironically, the song is one of the slower, more somber songs, relatively speaking, even though its chorus would surely handle the loud work of the title.
L7 are known for their ecstatic live shows, and a tour of over twenty dates is set to begin a week after the album’s release. Far more than a nostalgic trip, Scatter the Rats has enough fresh blood to remind listeners where L7 stood, and may stand again, in the Hard Rock landscape, and several songs will no doubt find their way into the coming live sets. That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to give Scatter the Rats 3.5 out of 5 stars.