By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Girls Against Boys
OK, this will not do. First off, Girls Against Boys used to be all about sex, and not just in its lyrics (though you'd find plenty there too). The dueling basses of Eli Janney and Johnny Temple, the slurred come-ons of vocalist Scott McCloud, the preponderance of heavy grooves--all of it once added up to the kind of sultry-rock vibe that the (vintage) Afghan Whigs peddled with authority. Its title notwithstanding, Freak*On*Ica offers precious little that could be mistaken for sensuality. The deficiency is confusing at first, since some of the hallmarks of GvsB's past remain intact here: The rhythms are still solid, the basses still moan and thud, McCloud still whispers with clenched teeth (though he's pretty much gotten over the Mark E. Smith fixation that was so pronounced on '96's House of GvsB).
While those elements can make for the occasional flash of groove--the undulating low-end and scratching effects of "Black Hole," say, or the rhythmic frenzy that begins about a minute into "Exile"--more often they're buried beneath faux-metal guitar riffs and/or used in the service of half-cocked material: "Park Avenue," the album-opener, sounds like nothing so much as Stabbing Westward--a band that is only slightly less sexy than a pustulant cold-sore.
Which brings us to the second problem here: Girls Against Boys is capable of writing better songs than these. There's not much of the wit once evidenced in "Kill the Sexplayer" or "Cruise Your New Baby Fly Self," not much of the catchy buzz that once propelled "Crash 17 (X-Rated Car)," not much of the subdued grind that once carried "Vera Cruz" and "Zodiac Love Team." What's left is...well, not much. Beyond the above-noted "Black Hole" and "Exile," only "Pleasurized" seems worth mention; its bass breaks and jokey-techno keyboards provide a nice backbone for an incisive vocal part from McCloud--who, having abandoned the inflections of the Fall, here sounds suspiciously similar to the Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler.
The rest is a mess of mediocre stylism, from the vaguely-catchy-but-so-what "Psycho-Future" to the plodding, pointless "Roxy" to the procession of painfully average numbers that make up most of the album's second half, from "Speedway" to "Push the Fader." The sterile production doesn't help matters; the emphasis on metallic guitars and McCloud's vocals starts to make Freak*On*Ica sound like one lame alt-rock song after another--or, worse, the same lame alt-rock song over and over. Girls Against Boys was never an amazing band, but it could be a great good one, and it's certainly better than this.