by Chase Goldberg Friedman
Unlike bandmate Nina Gordon’s first solo record 23 years earlier, Louise Post’s solo debut does not come at the expense of much of her rocker image. But it does seem to come at the expense of much of her personality.
I understand, for example, why the vocal performance is more restrained, maybe the instrumentation more reined in. But has Post forgotten how to write killer lyrics? For that reason, the thing this reminds me of most is the ultimate sellout band, Weezer. Songwriter Rivers Cuomo’s lyrics past 1996 are a fascinating study in sounding like they mean something but really giving you absolutely nothing, and Post seems to have adopted this lyrical technique. It’s insane that this has happened to somebody as skilled with lyrical imagery as Post, who built songs of such specificity and power.
The same mind who gave us gems like “I’m weak and I want you to try / to love me like a monster” or “Last night I dreamt you were gay / it was all that you needed to say,” should not be writing Rivers Cuomo-esque lines like “I’m late for my job at the diner / you’ll come back tonight with a shiner / and you’ll pass out on the recliner” on “Guilty,” or “That’s the way we live, the way we live / That’s the way we live, the way we live / That’s the way it is, the way it is / That’s the way it is, the way we live,” on, who would’ve guessed it, turgid album closer “The Way We Live.” This isn’t the Green Album… but it might as well be. Maturing is one thing – this is regression.
Even when Post opens up, her lyrics lack the specificity that made her previous efforts so powerful. When she sings “I need you” and calls herself “all messed up” on “All Messed Up,” or talks about all the “secrets in this house” on “Secrets,” they just seem like words. What’s messed up? What are the secrets? Post used to thrive in that specificity.
The most honest song on the album, the one where the lyrics are allowed to shine, is “All These Years,” which is sparse, interesting, beautiful, and above all, specific. The solo, stripped-down approach lets the track float. When the rainy-day melancholy synth base meshes with the smooth instrumentation, it’s enough to make you start flying.
Many tracks like “What About,” “Don’t Give Up,” and the aforementioned “The Way We Live” are just uninteresting, upbeat, contemporary alt-pop. Like cotton candy, they evaporate when digested, and tend to be one note and oh-so-repetitive. This is particularly disappointing on “Don’t Give Up” which starts off getting into a groove, but builds into a non-chorus where Post repeats “Don’t give up yet” eight times, as if she’s coaching us through the chorus. It’s alright, but despite the nicely ornamental building at the end it’s basic, it just doesn’t mean anything tangible, not anything that feels real, and that’s so disappointing.
“God I Know” also stands out. I wish this were better; it’s a vulnerable reflection, an apology to God for being the way she is. It’s sweet, but the cloying production in its second half robs it of any emotional resonance it was reaching for. It’s almost comical, because it builds with an elaborate drum section, seemingly taking us into an explosive climax, and then immediately flops on its face into a limp, saccharine nothing. I wish I had the demo here, because a stripped down version might really work for me. “Hollywood Hills” is another interesting one: doot doots and unfitting keys make this stand out aesthetically perhaps most of all, and though the underlying song isn’t the weakest, it crumbles under the weight of choices that demand justification the song can’t provide. “Guilty,” the lead single, is also a weird song. The lyrics are awful, the guitar tone is weird, and Post is doing an odd over-emphasis thing with her voice. It has enough energy across its brisk two minute runtime that it comes off better than it should, even if it’s in the direction of a 2000s DCOM end-credits song.
Most interesting are the spots on the album which return to rock – opener “Queen of the Pirates,” and mid-album song “Killer.” On “Killer,” Post pioneers a slimmer, less brutal, matured version of the Veruca Salt aesthetic, whisper-backups and all. She doesn’t sing like she did 25 years ago, but she’s not trying to, nor is she trying to sound like someone she isn’t. And though this is instrumented with a typical rock band fleet of instruments, the lack of brand lends to a distinctly different feel. Here, we get a glimpse of what the album could have been. The lyrics still lack Post’s emotionality, which is its only detractor, but if you needed proof she can still write an absolute rock earworm, there it is.
Post’s Gordon-less Veruca Salt albums (Resolver and IV) were as much solo projects as they were continuations of the Veruca Salt sound. When the band was together she would still write all of her own songs by herself, (the album split between Gordon-penned songs and Post ones), with limited input from other members of the band. But it feels here that even though Post has been writing songs on her own for over thirty years, without the firm foundation brought by having members with set roles – bassist, two guitarists, drummer, singer, backup singer – or a sound to fill, Post’s songwriting has become completely unmoored.
Is it unfair to compare an artist to who they were 20-plus years ago? Absolutely. But as long as she is Louise Post (of Veruca Salt) on her tour dates, and the album is listed as Louise Post ft. Veruca Salt on streaming platforms, she invites the comparison. As it stands, the best song on this album – “Killer,” by a mile – pales in comparison to Post’s worst song released under the Veruca Salt name.
Much more worth your time are a collection of Post’s demos from 1997-98 published exclusively on Bandcamp, “But I Love You Without Mascara,” which are beautiful and intense and soul-bearing, particularly “Color You Black,” which might be the best song she’s ever written. After listening to about 65 Gordon and Post songs in one day to write this, it’s the only one stuck in my head.
In 2000, after the release of Resolver, Post, interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, said “ I hope I find God and make a really boring record the next time.” It looks like she got her wish.
I’m sure she’ll still rock my socks off when I see her in July.