By Tony BonyataChicago alternative rockers Veruca Salt have just released their second full-length album, Eight Arms to Hold You (also the rejected title for The Beatle's Help LP), and this should please the pants off fans of candy coated pop-rock, but will, undoubtedly, disappoint those expecting an even rougher more intense sound than their previous material. Instead of melding the distorted, dynamic sounds of The Smashing Pumpkins with the melodic quirkiness of The Breeders, as they did on their debut gold album American Thighs, Veruca Salt has transformed themselves into a bona fide bubblegum hard rock act (imagine Josie and the Pussycats on steroids).
The band lifted their name from a spoiled rotten character in the Roald Dahl story "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". Similar to Wonka's factory, Eight Arms is filled with saccharin melodies, cotton candy harmonies, and gooey ballads that unfortunately tend to become a little sickly sweet in large doses.
Eight Arms opens up, somewhat deceivingly, with the hard-edged "Straight", a heavy (almost metal) rocker with front girls Nina Gordon (guitar and vocals) and Louise Post (lead guitar and vocals) belting out the virtues of keeping substance-free. After this hectic encounter the band is back on the sugar trail with their first single off the album "Volcano Girls", a song with sticky melodies as well as 'Gee, aren't we clever?' references to their first single "Seether" and (again) The Beatle's "Glass Onion".
"With David Bowie" finds the gals gushing over the thin white duke in a song that owes more to the Bangles than to Bowie. With schoolgirl-like crushes they cry, "him and me, in a tree, I-N-G" (Oh, brother). "Benjamin" and "Loneliness is Worse" are two soppy ballads that would make a welcome prescription for insomnia, while the girls' enthusiasm is nothing short of a junior high pep rally as the pompons fly in the smells-like-team-spirit anthem, "Awesome".
Veruca Salt do manage, however, to break out of Ma and Pa's sweet shop just long enough to deliver a few solid chunks of rock candy. The bouncy "Sound of the Bell" is a well constructed song complete with an innovative Adrian Belew-sounding guitar solo. In the thunderous "Shutterbug" the band spits out shards of shimmering metal and on the closing track, "Earthcrosser" (the album's true moment), they pull off a fine, well textured number in a climactic Jane's Addiction fashion.
A little more of these type songs and a lot less of the syrupy sweet ones that dominate Eight Arms to Hold You and Veruca Salt might be destined for a lot more than just their own Saturday morning cartoon show.
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