photo & text by nacrowe
L7's BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) is one of the most NO BULLSHIT ROCK AND ROLL records of the 1990s and puts most of their PUNK ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK cohorts, MALE or FEMALE, to total shame. the title sums it up PERFECT since PUMMELING tracks like "WARGASM," "SHIT LIST," "EVERGLADE," "SCRAP," "SLIDE" and "PRETEND WE'RE DEAD" are completely UNRELENTING and HEAVY beyond belief, both lyrically and sonically.
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA i was introduced unwittingly to the group in early elementary school via their single "PRETEND WE'RE DEAD" which was a staple on the local INFLUENTUAL ALTERNATIVE ROCK station 106.7FM KROQ in LOS ANGELES but wasn't really aware of the group until much later in high school. upon rediscovering them and becoming reacquainted with the absolute TORNADO of PUNK ROCK energy that is the MONSTROUS voice and persona of DONITA SPARKS just blew me away. this was a figure that was not looking for male acceptance and demanded RESPECT on her terms a la PJ HARVEY, PATTI SMITH, BJORK, etc. to tell you the truth i was actually pissed off that i hadnt heard BRICKS ARE HEAVY sooner since i was familiar with most of the other major players from the early 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement, or so i thought. L7 was basically a reeducation for me and a lesson in my own MYOPIA as a music listener, since i was unaware of the gaps in my own listening diet from that period. it makes you consider how many other similar bands didnt breakthrough for not succumbing to OUTMODED and RESTRICTIVE SOCIETAL DISTORTIONS regarding GENDER NORMS and what is considered FEMININE. L7 and SPARKS in particular didnt have time for that BULLSHIT on BRICKS ARE HEAVY, they were too busy showing their peers what actual PUNK ROCK looked and sounded like.
much is made about BUTCH VIG's production on classic ALTERNATIVE ROCK staples like NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS' GISH (CAROLINE, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993), but id argue that BRICKS ARE HEAVY and its UNYIELDING aural onslaught is arguably his greatest moment as a producer. or at the very least on par with his more CELEBRATED efforts.
lyrically BRICKS ARE HEAVY deals with everything from MALE CHAUVINISM, THE GULF WAR and REDNECKS to the multitude of pressures that come with being a stridently INDEPENDENT FEMALE in a society that wants you to go home to your supposed DOMESTIC SPHERE and remain QUIET and PASSIVE. the whole album comes off like a PRIMAL SCREAM and giant MIDDLE FINGER to MIDDLE AMERICAN values and a cultural malaise that renders WOMEN as UNWILLING second-class citizens. its interesting that much of L7's CAUSTIC response to MALE AGGRESSION aligns intimately with that of the concurrent RIOT GRRL movement of which they were not a part of. the difference i see is that the OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON and later WASHINGTON, DC-based RIOT GRRL movement was more of a CEREBRAL affair focused on fanzines and giving FEMALE audience members a voice both in and out of the club, whereas L7 was more CONFRONTATIONAL and sought to push the BOYS around in their own playground. the PRIME example of such is DONITA SPARKS ICONIC throwing of her used tampon at the UNRULY READING FESTIVAL crowd in 1992. i literally cannot think of any gesture being more PUNK ROCK than that, done anywhere, ever.
BRICKS ARE HEAVY is a classic album that is worthy of all the hype its gotten in the wake of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the early 1990s. it is still EXCITING and absolutely eviscerates most ROCK AND ROLL music from any period in terms of its CATCHINESS, ENERGY, CONVICTION and sheer FEROCITY. most definitely worth check out.
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