The original Veruca Salt lineup, the one that brought you “Seether” and “Volcano Girls” in the ‘90s, is back again with their first release together since 1997, Ghost Notes. Sure, singer/guitarist Louise Post tried to keep the name going with various other musicians after singer/guitarist Nina Gordon, drummer Jim Shapiro, and bassist Steve Lack all left in a not-so friendly split, but now the whole gang is back together! The Chicago-based quartet was best known for their sugary vocals over grungy alt-rock, with Gordon and Post nearly sharing a voice that seemed to magically split into harmonies. Lots has changed in the years since these four were together, but not much has changed for them musically. If anything, they’ve softened ever-so-slightly, and they have a lot of material about the breakup and reunion. Still, it’s just kind of, well, boring.
Gordon and Post’s voices haven’t changed a bit: they still have that sweet, clear quality that mix and match so well together. “Empty Bottle” shows off the emotional vocal range, moving between snarling and sweet. These sugary vocals sit atop angry alt-rock guitar, though they lack the grunge sensibility they had in the past. It’s a little softer. That’s the formula the band sticks to throughout the album, pretty vocals over slightly fuzzy guitars. The one track where they deviate from the formula is “Alternica,” what sounds like it belongs on a concept album telling the story of a space traveler. It’s a head scratcher. Much of the rest of the album sounds like it was made to be an anthem, like “Black and Blonde,” “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl,” and the opening “The Gospel According to Saint Me.”
A bad breakup is always great inspiration for a songwriter, so just imagine when it was a four-way breakup. There’s lots of looking back at the past on “Prince of Wales” (which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Prince Charles.) You can guess the subject matter on songs like “Lost to Me,” “The Sound of Leaving,” and “Love You Less.” There’s hope surrounding the reunion, too: “Empty Bottle” says that “the door is open, even if it’s just a tiny crack” and Gordon and Post sing that “I don’t want to drown if you’re not drowning with me.” “Come Clean Dark Thing” and “I’m Telling You Now” seem to be about reconciling and working together, and trying to leave the messiness behind them. None of the lyrics are especially clever, but they’ll do. “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” might as well be made of sugar, with it’s almost cheerleader-like counting or rhyming off the letters of the alphabet over a big drum beat. Speaking of those lyrics, I’m not even sure what “Laughing” is about, but it accuses someone of starting a fire in Chinatown and then mentions (or name-drops) that “Whole Lotta Love” is coming on the radio.
This album is lacking something. It’s got a catchy anthem with the first single, “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl;” it’s got the emotional backstory with the original lineup’s reunion; it’s even got an inexplicable and ill-fitting sci-fi odyssey kinda song, “Alternica,” to close out the album. Even with all that, the album just lags. There are three songs over five and a half minutes, they just keep going and going. Keep in mind that the catchiest song on the album is only two minutes and sixteen second long. Maybe it’s that the whole sweet-voice-over-guitars thing gets old, maybe it’s that the songs need more bite and bigger guitar solos (remember the one on “Volcano Girls?” There’s nothing like that on here.) I’m happy for Veruca Salt and glad that they were all able to bury their hatchets, but maybe they also buried the tension and anger needed to really make this album interesting.