Although fronted by women, Reading’s Heart Throbs were distinct from the so-called “blonde” pop bands of the UK day (Darling Buds, Primitives). Making sweet-girl sounds, the English quintet had a darker, menacing tone that got stronger with each of its albums, all of whose titles are euphemisms for female genitalia. Singer/guitarist Rose Carlotti and bassist Rachael DeFreitas—both sisters of late Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete DeFreitas—were the band’s focal points; on Cleopatra Grip, co- produced by Gil Norton (Bunnymen, Pixies), Carlotti lends a breathy coo to the psychedelically charged, slightly dancey guitar rock. About half the album is as good as any likeminded group around (we’re talking total decimation of Transvision Vamp et al.). While songs like “I Wonder Why” and “Slip & Slide” rely a bit too heavily on easy choruses, “Tossed Away” and “Here I Hide” show a real intuitive sense for what makes a good pop tune memorable, the haunting “In Vain” and “Dreamtime” display mastery of post-punk atmospherics. But not all of the songs hit the same sublime nirvana; while the band puts on a bold face for its debut, they too often sound clueless.
DeFreitas and drummer Mark Side left after a subsequent tour; the reconstituted Heart Throbs self-produced Jubilee Twist. Though the album is superficially not much of a departure from the debut, Carlotti sounds more forceful, especially on the lovely “Winter Came Too Soon” and the churning “The Girl Became the Stairs.” Note the Siouxsie echoes of “Too Late.”
Vertical Smile unveils yet another rhythm section and heads in a much harder direction. With Alan Borgia’s guitar way raunchier and up front, Carlotti stretches herself a bit thin, often coming off as a Kate Bush wannabe on such tracks as “Perry Said,” though PJ Harvey would probably do well with the angry “Apple Pie”—which speaks volumes about the talent at work here.