Like Lunachicks and Babes in Toyland, L7 emerged from rock’s pre-riot grrrl wing, seeking not to steamroller or dismantle the male mosh society but rather to join it. Girls just wanna bang heads, as it were. That’s a feminist stance in its own right, but in time L7’s four members would show they had plenty on their minds — along with bad humor-tinged attitude to spare. Not for nothing did director Oliver Stone chose their song “Shitlist” as Mallory Knox’s theme in his Natural Born Killers.
Prior to L7, bassist Jennifer Finch was in Sugar Baby Doll with Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland; guitarist Suzi Gardner fronted Los Angeles outfit the Debbies. With shouts of “Let’s Rock” and — gasp! — a boy by the name of Roy Koutsky in the drum seat, the L7 album is a heady but largely inconsequential introduction; it’s all brute force and speed, grunge as a sheer sonic description. Smell the Magic is where things start to get interesting. Moving to Sub Pop and enlisting drummer Dee (Demetra) Plakas (ex-Problem Dogs: for a good chuckle, find the quartet’s dinky 1983 new wave single, “City Hall”), L7 still brings the noise, but with a melodicism that isn’t as evident on the first album. Their songs are more pointed, too, railing against conformity, corporate-fed definitions of beauty and, in the flip-off anthem “Shove,” society in general.
Bricks Are Heavy, the Los Angeles quartet’s best to date, delivers. Without taming the quartet’s attack, co-producer Butch Vig adds definition and dynamics to L7’s sound; Suzi Gardner and Donita Sparks finally sound like a guitar tandem instead of a pair of thrashers, while Finch and Plakas form a piledriver rhythm section. A strong batch of songs also helps the cause, from the fury of “Everglade” and the biting anti-military rant “Wargasm” to the slow grind of “One More Thing,” the hyper surf wave of “Mr. Integrity” and the radio-ready groove of “Pretend We’re Dead.” The Japanese Pretend We’re Dead EP is worth searching out; it bolsters Bricks‘ strengths with some unreleased numbers — including an ironic take on Guns n’ Roses’ “Used to Love Her (Him)” — and five hot live cuts.
Hungry for Stink doesn’t hit Bricks Are Heavy‘s highs for a simple reason: the songs aren’t as good. L7 still plays the hell out of them, and there are moments — the wonderfully lusty and snot-nosed “Andres,” for one. But even if it doesn’t exactly stink, Hungry is still a letdown.
With a new L7 album, The Beauty Process, in the can, Finch quit in the summer of ’96 and formed a new band. Belly alumna Gail Greenwood took her place, making her recorded debut on the 1997 live album.