Turns out Courtney Love's a pretty lousy role model after all. Just what does it tell women when the strip-club punk goes pop-pop-pop and decides it's all about looking pretty on the outside after all? So that leaves Donita Sparks, Dee Plakas, Suzy Gardner, and the rotating fourth as proof that you need not have a rocket in your pocket to make the kids go-go crazy. Time to separate the women from the girls, then drop them in the squared circle with the rest of the boys and let them settle it like men.

Bet the house on L7, the gals who got so much clit they don't need balls. Between them, the Donnas, and Sleater-Kinney, here's all the proof you'll ever need whenever someone starts insisting it ain't the meat but the motion. Get Skintight, The Hot Rock, and now Slap Happy: the three best capital-R rock records of the year, and not a dude in sight. Seriously, fellas, your time has come and gone. Hang up your cock-rock and bring on the ladies of the house. Twenty years from now, they'll make a movie about four gal pals trying to cop tickets to an L7 show; or maybe they can get Christina Ricci, Natasha Lyonne, and Kirsten Dunst to star in the made-for-VH1 biopic Hungry for Stink: The L7 Story.

There are six records from L7 now, and not a stiff in the bunch, even if the 1988 debut pales in comparison with the complex mischief of 1992's Bricks Are Heavy or 1997's hot-and-heavy-metal The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum. They even accomplished the impossible earlier this year, releasing a punishing live album from Osaka without the guess-you-had-to-be-there warning. But nothing tops the brand-new gem Slap Happy, which opens with a dual-guitar sneer and stays loud long enough to make the quieter, funkier moments sound all the more ingenious. It's tomorrow's classic rock yesterday, proof positive that punk and metal long ago married and settled down in Angus Young's hot tub.

There's enough hot rock here to keep alive the Ramones-by-way-of-Motörhead comparisons that have long dogged a band far more complicated than that (though it's likely AC/DC-meets-the-Runaways you're thinking of). But you might confuse "Freeway" with a Luscious Jackson outtake -- except for the fact that Donita Sparks can, like, sing. Then there's the quiet, laconic breeze of "Freezer Burn," which nudges the record toward its kicking-and-screaming finale, "Mantra Down." There's nothing in this world as powerful as a "metal" band that understands that the most powerful noise you can make is silence, if only because it makes everything else around it that much louder.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky