I play it, oh, twice just to be sure. If the goodwill being offered to Marnie Stern and her second album is to be taken at all seriously, you’d be forgiven for thinking we had, mmm, another Exile in Guyville on our hands. It’s nearly twenty years since Liz Phair flipped her fiery calling card onto the table, jolting us to fevered attention because she liked swearing and shagging - and further enjoyed engaging the hearts and minds of those of us who’d come across plenty of women who were keen on both (well, the former for sure) but were well behind Phair’s sense of lo-fi songcraft. Sadly, it was all downhill from there for our Liz but she remains the touchstone for lazy criticism.
On which point ... I wish I’d heard this album ‘blind’, such is the positive advance word. Having heard it on the back of so much unfathomable trumpeting, I’m tempted to say I wish I’d heard it deaf. It’s just awful; a wayward, schizophrenic muddle. It bucks and kicks like an unbroken mare off the bridle. Stern is hailed for her guitar mastery but it’s a struggle to find much evidence of her virtuosity. The bleeping storm of hammer-ons and pull-offs points to untrammelled energy but little evidence of taste, discipline or judgement. Songs wither under the onslaught. That bit on Pixies’ ‘Oh My Golly’ where Joey Santiago flips out and unleashes that squealy psycho ‘solo’ ? Covered here three dozen times. Unbelievable. Just because she can wave her guitar around with low slung abandon doesn’t mean she’s mastered the damn thing. You will find more striking evidence of young females coming to the fore with their chops in order on, say, the first Throwing Muses album.
No doubt 'Marnie Stern' is informed by artistic ambitions of the hghest order but there’s a chasm between design and realisation. It’s an album that’s difficult for all the wrong reasons, and feels like a trap sprung by dreamers, desperate to hang meaning and import on a wholly flimsy construct. I’m not falling for it.