Writing songs as a therapy can be a massive release for the songwriter. Unfortunately it can also be a bit of a chore for the listener if not handled carefully. Using the diary she wrote as a 13-year-old as a starting point, vocalist/guitarist Lucy Joplin has accumulated a band to play out the tales from a life that could only really be described as turbulent.
Rock Kicks is both invigorating and, at times, utterly frustrating. Not Your Type At All, which kicks the album off, manages to be both, and just about comes out with a winning grin. A story about a failed relationship is nothing new but there are some brilliantly realised post-punk wiry guitars and tin-pot drums.
But it’s Joplin’s voice and phrasing that really stands out. Initially sounding like a terrified amateur, her delivery is so self-conscious that she sounds out the lyrics one syllable at a time. It’s like a cockney speaking-clock reading a Neighbours script. Accenting the word “fuck” suggests that Lucy still thinks that swearing is clever and partially confirms that the band’s ramshackle sound is not so much a statement but more down to naivet�. The chorus however kicks any doubts squarely in the trousers. Spat out with an assurance that suddenly springs from nowhere, Joplin catches everyone on the wrong foot and heads towards scathing pop perfection.
No Be Good’s quick two-minute blast utilises a wonderfully apathetic backing vocal, presumably from bassist JJ Crash. Its simplicity is perfect.�When the high-pitched two note guitar threatens to drill its way into any skulls in its way, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the sheer stupid excitement that such a basic idea can create when performed with conviction.
The simplistic nature of these songs is the saving grace of much of Rock Kicks. There are no frills here, just quickly crafted material spat out in threadbare form, sounding as if they’ve been recorded almost as soon as they’ve been written. This immediacy gives the album a gloriously unrefined and infectious edge. It’s a double edged sword though; a lack of ideas and variation in sound eventually causes all the songs to merge into a fuzz of familiar chord changes and vocal phrasing.
Joplin herself undulates between sounding gloriously pissed off and utterly baffled by the songs she’s written. When there’s a bit of anger that needs expressing – as on Targets – then her feral howl possesses an electrifying crackle, but when she tries to sound too considered or cute, as on the upbeat jangle of The Party Line, it falls flat. At other times she’s seemingly disinterested, which renders some of these songs as worthless than a Kenickie cast-off. (NB. Kenickie were great.)
It all ends on a high note though, with the brilliant overreaching balladry of Pornomags & Sofas. Joplin plays the broken siren perfectly as strings and soaring guitars build an emotive soundscape around her. It is so out of keeping with the rest of the record that it feels like an elaborate joke. Yet the emotion is most certainly real and just about holds everything together. It’s a strange but affecting ending to an album that veers between the appalling and brilliant every couple of seconds. Rock Kicks is as confusing as a 13-year-old’s diary, and maybe that’s the point.