The contrast of wispy pop vocals against sizzling pan-fried guitars gives Veruca Salt its immediate sensual appeal; catchy tunes that bend topics and themes into inscrutable shapes around a warped ’70s rock-culture template add depth to the Chicago quartet’s debut album. Accused of cloning the Breeders’ genes and resented for the critical and A&R frenzy that brought the young band to a fat deal with a major label fifteen months after playing its first public show in a Chicago bar, Veruca Salt (named for a little girl character in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is neither the second coming nor devil spawn.
Talented and engaging, intelligent and educated, coy and painfully self-amused (witness the album’s AC/DC lyric title and a music publishing company named Are You There God It’s Me Music?), singer/guitarists Louise Post and Nina Gordon (joined by Steve Lack on bass and Gordon’s brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums) come off like overachieving smarties forced to explain their weird behavior in front of the class without letting their true motives show. American Thighs, adroitly recorded by Brad Wood (of Liz Phair fame), showcases the pair’s solo songwriting and sympathetically joined voices. The album drags its tail through some uninspired rockers at the start and finish, but the middle soars with pretty and powerful gems: “Seether,” “Forsythia” (both by Gordon, who has a singular knack for offbeat melodies and sinister lyrics), the power-falsetto rock of “Victrola” and the simmering burn of “Spiderman ’79,” (typically tough and direct Post creations) and “Number One Blind” (a Gordon/Shapiro collaboration). A casually stylish link between insular underground sensibilities and MTV popularity, American Thighs is, as Gordon sings in “Seether,” “neither loose nor tight…neither black nor white…neither big nor small…the center of it all.”
The colorfully titled 1996 EP, a stopgap to keep the band in mind while awaiting the release of its second album in late ’96, contains some nice pictures and four unspectacular new songs written two each by Post and Gordon and recorded with a loudly articulated rock edge by Steve Albini.
Resolver begins the Salt’s second era, as it’s the band’s first release following the departure of Nina Gordon for a solo career.