Alice Bag’s legacy began in 1977 when Bag (born Alicia Armendariz) co-founded one of the first bands to take part in the earliest wave of punk rock in Los Angeles. Although her group, the Bags, released only a handful of tracks before their dissolution in 1981, the band had a larger-than-life presence in the LA music scene that left an indelible mark on the punk community ever after.
As the Chicana frontwoman of one of the original punk rock bands, Alice Bag has been a groundbreaking cultural and musical icon for the greater part of the last forty years. Over the course of her life, Bag has been a dedicated bilingual educator, social justice advocate, and author of several semi-autobiographical books, as well as a prominent figure in the feminist activist community. Since the breakup of the Bags, she has also continued to write, produce, and play music in a number of lesser-known groups from the 1980s through today.
Despite her decades as a musician and laundry list of accomplishments, Bag is only now releasing her first solo album, which she was empowered to create after producing several tracks for the San Antonio punk rock band FEA. Bag’s self-titled LP was released last week, giving an eclectic – and completely crowd-funded – sampling of Bag’s storied background.
The ten tracks on Alice Bag run a wide gambit, flowing from girl group and soul (“He’s So Sorry”) to ranchera and Mexican ballads (“Inesperado Adios”) to punk rock (“Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice” and “Poisoned Seed”) and back again. The punk energy never reaches the heights of the Bags–but this isn’t the Bags, this is Alice Bag. While the sound might not be constant throughout the record, Bag’s punk ideology is stronger than ever.
For such a multi-faceted album it’s difficult to choose a standout, but “Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice” feels like an updated version of Bag’s more celebrated punk output of the late ’70s, and manages to land in a sweet spot of lyrical nuance that the other tracks overshoot. The opening track and single “He’s So Sorry” also packs a punch, inspired by the domestic abuse of one of Bag’s close friends. Essentially, though, the song is intended as a callout to Phil Spector, and is executed in the style of Spector himself. Despite a stilted intro, “He’s So Sorry” deftly modernizes the 60’s rock n’ roll feel of its instrumental arrangement and background vocals, through the addition of Bag’s big, twanging voice and aggressive lyricism.
The only major weakness of Alice Bag is in the lyrics, which confront social issues so directly that there is no room left for the shades of meaning that can make lyrical music so compelling. Granted, when it comes to the subjects Bag is tackling (such as domestic abuse, rape culture, Monsanto, and the failures of public education) subtlety may not be the first priority. Brazen lyrics notwithstanding, the album is a faithful reflection of its creator. The Bag of Alice Bag has forty years of musicianship under her belt, a cultivated radical ideology, and a diverse mosaic of influences, while still being somewhat of newcomer to her own lyrical voice. Alice Bag’s debut LP is a complex cross-section of her lived-experiences as a musician, punk rocker, activist, educator, Latina woman, feminist, and mother. Ultimately, what Bag has delivered to her fans is a career spanning snapshot of her authentic self, and followers of Bag’s work will not be disappointed.