It was punk that delivered the all-female rock band from novelty status, which may be why so many such bands remain loyal to the genre. Judging from recent releases by such latter-day blitzkrieg-boppers as the Donnas and Lunachicks, however, some stylistic reassessment may be in order.
The Donnas The Donnas cover Motley Crue's "Too Fast for Love" on their third album, "Get Skintight" (Lookout), and thanks to the production (by Redd Kross's Steve and Jeff McDonald), the album has the punch and presence of such pop-metal elders as the Crue. Still, there's no mistaking this Palo Alto quartet's scheme: Sound like the Ramones, think like the Runaways. The band, which appears Tuesday at the Black Cat, wears that formula like a pair of jeans so tight they sometimes cut off blood flow to the imagination.
Like the Runaways, the Donnas are California teens who broke away from a sleaze-rock Svengali but couldn't think of anything better to do once they were on their own. On this album's 13 originals, singer-guitarist Donna A and fellow Donnas C, F and R are either partying out of control ("Hyperactive," "Well Done") or putting some poor guy in his place ("Zero," "I Didn't Like You Anyway"). In other words, most of these songs are distaff rewrites of a few Ramones classics, complete with chord progressions borrowed from Johnny. Two of the more distinctive songs vary the recipe, if only slightly: "Hook It Up" celebrates getting high, and "You Don't Wanna Call" laments waiting by the phone. "Get Skintight" is brisk and tuneful, but it offers no clues as to what the Donnas might do when they grow up.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8181.)
Older and meaner--and New Yorkier--than the Donnas, Lunachicks have been playing a metallic form of punk since 1988. Both bands write songs that are fast, short and hard, but only Lunachicks have a flair for the sort of lyrics and titles that can't be printed in a family newspaper. The 15 tracks on "Luxury Problem" (Go-Kart) include discussions of masturbation and gender confusion, but most prefer the put-down to the turn-on: Typical titles include "Shut You Out," "Hope to Die" and "Nowhere Fast."
The latter is such a perfect punk title that it's been applied to a half-dozen songs, but Lunachicks' frustrations pertain not to adolescence but to career: "We've seen every floor of every Motel 6/ We got dirty clothes and lost guitars and we're all sick." The quartet is currently on the Warped Tour, which appears July 17 at RFK Stadium, and it's clear that the band's hard-driving style would thrive on the road. As singer Theo aptly notes in "I'll Be the One," a song whose sentiments can only be called macho: "I'll be the first one to take the dare." In that sense, these leather-and-lace rebels are classic rockers. "Luxury Problem" is a solid effort, but the recording studio is not the ideal habitat for a band that's better endowed with swagger than ingenuity.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8182.)
Luscious Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach was an early member of the Beastie Boys, and her subsequent band took much from the Boys' meld of punk and hip-hop. But the Jacksons' new "Electric Honey" (Grand Royal/Capitol) has a glossier sound (courtesy of veteran producer Tony Visconti) that evokes some of the most commercial moments of the punk/new wave/alt-rock continuum that stretches all the way back to Blondie. In fact, the latter's Deborah Harry makes a guest appearance on "Fantastic Fabulous," a nice gesture that doesn't yield one of the album's better tracks.
That song is the ninth of 15, and like many contemporary pop CDs, "Electric Honey" has begun to flag by then. Still, such opening-half tunes as "Ladyfingers" and "Devotion" are some of the most appealing ever from this group, which has become a trio with the departure of keyboardist Vivian Trimble. The Jacksons, who will perform Aug. 10 at the 9:30 club, create an unforced urban groove on such songs as "Summer Daze" and "Sexy Hypnotist." The cooing chorus of the former recalls the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love," and the latter takes its bass line from the Breeders' "Cannonball," all of which shows how deftly eclectic the band's ladyfingers have become.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8183.)
Cake Like's beginnings were eminently punk: Three women (who already had other careers in acting, comedy and fashion) picked up their boyfriends' instruments and figured out how to play. Now they're on their third album and have burnished many of their original rough edges. "Goodbye, So What" (Vapor) retains the jumpiness of the band's early sound, which is most noticeable in the prominence of singer Kerri Kenney's bass, but producer Craig Ross has tidied up and filled out the sound, in part by adding his keyboards, loops and steel guitar.
Cake Like's new sound matches its new concerns. Although the trio playfully imagines being as tough as Lunachicks in "My Guy"--"When my parole comes up in June/ We'll road trip, darlin'," Kenney sings--much of the album is somber. Lost love sounds particularly dire in "Miss You" and "Dead to Me," although the latter song shows some attitude toward an ex's new paramour. One of the album's liveliest tracks is titled "Lucky One," but its subject is surviving a massacre. That's just one of many clues that the musicians who made "Goodbye, So What" weren't feeling so lucky.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8184.)
CAPTION: Luscious Jackson, putting a glossy sheen on its blend of punk and hip-hop.