Release Date: Jul 10, 2015
Record label: El Camino Records
Genre(s): Grunge, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Veruca Salt burst onto the scene a caterwauling ball of sonic combustion, clawing, sneering, scratching with American Thighs in 1994. Named for Roald Dahl’s tantrum-throwing rich girl in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the Chicago-based group watched their single “Seether” turn gold on the wings of post-teenage meltdown. In the 21 years since then, Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack have released three other LPs on multiple different record labels, and their tumultuous history didn’t necessarily bode a good return to arms.
Given how effortlessly great Veruca Salt sound on Ghost Notes, it'd be easy to say that it seems like no time passed between this album and 1998's Eight Arms to Hold You, the last time the band's original lineup recorded together. However, that would be doing Louise Post, Nina Gordon, Steve Lack, and Jim Shapiro a disservice: their reunion couldn't have sounded this vital and confident without that time apart. They sound as sweet and heavy here as they did on American Thighs -- not coincidentally, they recruited that album's producer, Brad Wood, to work on Ghost Notes -- but also tougher and more focused.
It’s unlikely that Veruca Salt’s original lineup of Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Steve Lack, and Jim Shapiro ever imagined influencing bands 20 years in the future. One listen to Colleen Green or Charly Bliss, though, is all it takes to recognize the Chicago band’s importance, even if just with 1994’s American Thighs. Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt’s fifth album, plays out like a thank-you note, but unlike most reunited bands, Veruca Salt don’t aim to recapture the past.
By choosing the title Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt confront common fears about band reunions head on. Will reconciliation be an excuse for nostalgia? Will the group be content to fall into old habits? This is the Chicago band’s first album with founding member Nina Gordon since 1997, and its opening sounds play like a knowing joke. On "The Gospel According to Saint Me”, a fuzzy and sinuous bassline that could have come from 1994’s American Thighs burbles quietly before being cut off by sharp chords, giving way to Gordon’s bell-clear vocals: “I wanted to live/ So I pretended to die.” The sound is familiar and so is the sense of mischief, and if there’s a phantom around, it wants to party.
A ghost note only sort of gets played. Instead of a clear bell-like emission or shimmering glissando, the beat is choked out to the point that it’s percussive rather than pitched — it’s there, just not exactly what you’re expecting. At least in terms of Veruca Salt’s history then, Ghost Notes works as a cutely analogous title for their first album with their original lineup since 1997.
Veruca Salt's 1994 hit "Seether" turned Nirvana guitar growl and Breeders vocal snap into a bubble-grunge classic. The Chicago band's albums were smarter than they got credit for back then, and this one, the group's first with its original lineup since 1997, is great by any standard. Singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post knock out heat-rocks like "Laughing in the Sugar Bowl" and slugfests like "Black and Blonde." The best moments create wry poetry in the space between aging, desire and nostalgia: "Wait, don't grow up yet, 'cause it's late," they sing on "Eyes on You." This record proves it's never as late as life wants you to believe.
Even at their mid-90s peak, Veruca Salt – fronted by Louise Post and Nina Gordon – always came across as a less-interesting-sounding Breeders. After moderate success, Gordon left in 1998, amid much rancour, so when the original line-up reunited in 2013 it was a surprise. They do a good job of ticking off alt-rock touchstones on their comeback album – quiet-loud-quiet dynamics, fuzzed-up guitars, an all-pervading sense of angst that’s hardly becoming for fortysomethings – while opener The Gospel According to Saint Me is essence of AC/DC diluted to homeopathic levels.
Once those classic rock riffs kick in, and those lilting, perfectly matched voices join in harmony, the sound is unmistakable: Veruca Salt is back. “It’s gonna get loud / It’s gonna get heavy,” Nina Gordon and Louise Post warn on opening track, “The Gospel According To Saint Me,” and they’re right, in more ways than one. Even as there’s an element of triumphal return, the new record, Ghost Notes, is drawn as if by necessity to the past, picking at emotional scabs and re-examining psychic scars.
When the Chicago foursome Veruca Salt burst into the rock world 20-ish years ago, it quickly became known for its ferocity. The title of the quartet’s debut (“American Thighs”) nodded to AC/DC’s swagger; the band enlisted megaproducer Bob Rock for its followup; and gritty tracks like “All Hail Me” and “Volcano Girls” channeled hard rock’s crunch, adding Nina Gordon and Louise Post’s spun-sugar harmonies and gimlet-eyed lyrics for extra pop. Gordon departed in 1998 and Post trucked on until the mid-2000s; the band’s original lineup reformed in 2013.
Ghost Notes is the first record since 1997 featuring Veruca Salt's original lineup. Founding members Nina Gordon and Louise Post got the band back together a couple of years ago - a storied implosion tore it apart before the turn of the millennium - proclaiming "hatchets buried, axes exhumed." While their peers (most notably the Pixies) have had diminishing returns with "reunion" records, Ghost Notes finds Veruca Salt sounding gloriously alive and decidedly (still) badass. Admittedly, there aren't a lot of new tricks here.