Jan 262011

Female fronted.

The following term appears in the headline of a recent Rolling Stone article on some “up-and-coming” Welsh band.

…Female-Fronted Nineties Rock

The subtitle of the piece continues the patronizing tone:

Welsh trio’s debut disc recalls classic albums by bands like Hole, Elastica and PJ Harvey

What a pathetic, offensive reduction of a band’s work! The “female” thing is bad enough; call a woman a woman. This isn’t biology lab. Also, beside the fact that I can’t stand Hole, how do they fit in with Elastic and PJ Harvey other than era of popular breakthrough, vaginas, and a degree of shared “attitude”?

Perhaps this band is thrilled by the comparison and the RS ink, but to me this is no different than comparisons in the ’80s and ’90s, respectively, of The Busboys and Living Color to a handful of unrelated African-American rockers based almost solely on the fact that the band members are all “negroes.” With Exploitive Black Rock History Month upon us, what other offensive biases would you like to see eliminated from rock criticism?


  18 Responses to “Female-Fronted Nineties Rock”

  1. pudman13

    Look, I’m going to out myself as one of LIVE THROUGH THIS’s greatest fans. There may be no album from the 90s I’ve listened to more or enjoyed more. In order to do so, you have to separate Courtney Love the person from Courtney Love the lyricist, because this album is full of brilliant, insightful, timely lyrics about the state of being a woman (and a girl) in the modern era and covers very intelligently a lot of issues that were new (or, at least, under-explored) for rock and roll at the time. It’s a truly devastating work. I like CELEBRITY SKIN too, though it’s got very little of the lyrical strength of LIVE THROUGH THIS, but it has two of my favorite songs ever, the lovely power pop song “Heaven Tonight” and the truly haunting ballad “Dying.”

    Anyway…my point is that it is totally appropriate to call Hole a “female fronted band” because of the lyrical content, something that, frankly, I think rock and roll still has nowhere near enough of.

    Another truly great 90s album that covers some similar territory (though with a different tone) is Maria McKee’s LIFE IS SWEET.

    PJ Harvey also covered a number of specifically female lyrical topics on her best albums (the first three).

    Elastica is probably the odd band out, especially since their musical style (on the first album—everything after that can be ignored) is so 70s in nature, but they do have a few songs with lyrics that describe uniquely female experiences.

  2. bostonhistorian

    I doubt the writer of the article is responsible for the headline or the subhead, which doesn’t get the gist of the article. There’s a big difference between saying “debut disc recalls classic albums by bands like Hole, Elastica and PJ Harvey” and “the songs….mostly recall that time in the mid-Nineties when female-fronted bands such as Hole, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt and Elastica had a major presence on rock radio.” I completely understand the latter point.

    I will say that this construction of using three old bands to describe one new band happens all the time, as if this somehow triangulates the band’s sound so you can imagine what they sound like without actually hearing them. It doesn’t, and all it does is let the writer show off a little (or a lot) of knowledge.

  3. misterioso

    Rock criticism engaging in pigeon-holing and pat comparisons? This is truly shocking news. As for “female-fronted,” perhaps this is meant to be distinct from bands led by women; perhaps it’s meant in the same way as when one says a business is “mafia-fronted.”

  4. Thank you, misterioso, for tapping into some of the spirit-killing awkwardness perhaps few get from these constructions.

  5. jeangray

    What do you think of the allegations that Ms. Love’s husband (R.I.P.) wrote all of the musik on “Live Through This?”

  6. jeangray

    Were’nt we discussing female-fronted something or other jus’ the other day???

  7. misterioso

    Indeed. Your phrase, actually. Hmmmmm….

  8. Yes, that’s what caught my eye about this piece. Isn’t anyone else bugged by the whole Year of the Female-Fronted Nineties Rock revival BS? Doesn’t anyone else dread the Next Big Negro Rocker piece? I’m not making light of women, African Americans, or any other “rock minority” group, but I feel like every few years critics lump a few of these “types” together, pat themselves on the back, then move on with business as usual. Does every slightly unusual configuration in rock need to be lumped together and patted on the head?

  9. I didn’t mean to call out jeangray, who first made me laugh by calling us “tough guys.” Also, that reference was specific to an actual time that made sense, not a way to pat some young woman rocker on the head before slapping an old Blue Oyster Cult album on the turntable.

  10. misterioso

    Mod, you are starting to shake my previously unquestioned faith in the wisdom and beneficence of rock critics.

  11. pudman13

    I think it’s mostly baloney. For one thing, a bunch of the songs use a style of chord that I know is hers (playing an open chord and mobing it up the neck, leaving several strings open.) It’s likely that he helped her out here and there, but the haunting melodic style seems unique to me, and she showed it again here and there on the next two albums, so there’s no question to me that most of it is her. And while I know some people will get on my case for this, I think LIVE THROUGH THIS blows away any Nirvana album–these are simply more melodic and more consistently good songs.

  12. pudman13

    One thing I will mention is that it’s invariable that every late 60s or early 70s female artist got compared to Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane or Joni Mitchell as if there were no other reference points (or as if a female songwriter couldn’t be influence by men.) This does seem to be a type of laziness on the part of rock critics, but it’s also common for every melodic pop band to get compared to the Beatles, every hard rock band to get compared to Led Zeppelin, every underground band to the Velvet Underground, etc..

  13. I agree. I admit, I still listen to Live Through This and Celebrity Skin more than Nirvana. It could be because I just have heard Nirvana too damn much.

  14. Mary Lou Lord is trying to create more young women rockers in Boston!


    Funny how these schools are popping up, and from the charts, you would think no kids are listening to rock. Maybe no new rock?

  15. jeangray

    I swear that I did not read that Rolling Stone article before our Liz Phair themed thread from yesterday! It’s jus’ synergy man. Happens a lot…

  16. 2000 Man

    Someone got me a subscription to Rolling Stone and isn’t owning up to it (and all I wanted to do was say, “Thanks! It’s way better than I thought it would be”), and I missed this. They sound like a lot of indie rock groups with girls in them to me. I guess don’t hear the early 90’s female influences so much, so I don’t know where Mr. Perpetua was going with this.

    I’ll say this, I’d rather read a cover story on these guys than the current one on Lil Wayne. I’d spend at least 500 words on why the name of their band is so dumb that it’s gonna be a major hurdle for me to climb in order to buy the record.

  17. Elastica is both Female Fronted and Female Backed 😉

    I think sadly the “three touchstones” method of describing a band is overused but generally accurate for the music semi-fan.

    If you are on CD Baby they have you offer your “sounds like” and “influenced by” to help them catigorize you and link you to other artists.

    I have ( think)

    Sounds Like: Elvis Costello, The White Stripes, The Strokes.

    and influenced by : Chuck Berry, The Ramones, Modern Lovers.

    in order to communicate an overall sound/direction in 10 words or less.

    Could have just said White Guy 70’s Music Nerd Stuff – and then offended sensitive white guys at the very indie record stores I am trying to break into.

  18. I’m all for that stuff, j2, in the instanes you describe. I just hate when critics dig no deeper than gender and race when dealing with bands involving women and African Americans. Surely you recall the last “Year of the Woman.” It got to be ridiculous how many women got lumped into that “celebration,” as if they couldn’t be worth listening to simply for their music.

    A more recent term that really bugs me is “boy-girl band,” which is used to somehow describe a lot of indie bands these days, as if there’s something inherently and distinctively musical about the mix of “boys” and “girls” in a band. THAT bugs me too. As a sensitive guy I grew up learning to use the term “women” for “females” past a certain age. It’s an insult that I’m now expected to use the term “girls” for 30-year-old musicians – and “boys” for that matter. It’s kinda icky.

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