Vivian Girls sound most at home when they’re banging out scruffy garage tunes, turning bubblegum hooks into lazy shoegaze sing-alongs. On their third LP, Share The Joy, though, don’t quite sound at home most of the time. Here, we find Cassie Ramone and friends making an attempt to not be just another entry in the doe-eyed and dreamy girl fuzz-pop movement (if it is, by now, indeed a movement), turning in songs that stretch past the two-minute mark, if only because they’re a bit slowed down.
And in this new material, Ramone doesn’t come off as dreamy or aloof; instead, she sounds close to nodding off from boredom. Sure, there are occasional flashes of the old exuberance that made 2009′s Everything Goes Wrong what it was. But even in the faster moments – Dance (If You Wanna), Sixteen Ways – Vivian Girls sound sloppy, and not intentionally so. Their nod at ’60s girl groups (most notably the spoken word Leader Of The Pack type intro to Take It As It Comes) sounds a little too cool for its own good; Ramone’s deadpan delivery overshadows any sweetness the approach might engender. And, well, The Like do that sort of thing much better.
It almost feels as if, in their attempt to separate themselves from their peers/rivals (bands like Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, maybe Screaming Females) they’ve completely reverted any excess punk aggression to the level of a preteen kid hacking out his or her first tunes by headphone amplifier in the bedroom. The rock ‘n’ roll dream is there, but the execution is off the mark, by simple lack of energy invested in woodshedding.
The guitar solo in opener The Other Girls, for instance, is perhaps the laziest guitar solo of the year so far, and one’s got to wonder what the intention is here. It’s not shoegaze or punk rock, or even avant-garde hipster disaffection. Really, it comes across as Ramone’s first attempt at an extended solo, and over top of the bare-bones bass-and-drum rhythm section, it falls flat even as it builds gradually, leaving the listener wondering when it’s going to end.
And, where typical shoegaze (that of bands like Black Tambourine, for instance) relies on copious amounts of reverb to cover the lo-fi recording and subtly straightforward delivery, Vivian Girls keep that to a minimum. As a result, songs like Vanishing Of Time (which is the album’s closest brush with archetypal shoegaze simplicity) feel thin and underdeveloped, even in the comparably lush, droning harmonies.
Ramone sounds sedated as she drones, “It’s all alright with me,” – a sentiment that was done with so much more feeling by Lou Reed on Rock ‘N’ Roll. Anyway, Vivian Girls seem to be grasping for that same fleeting sense of distant reverie for the noises coming from these alien instruments at the end of their arms; they just can’t quite capture it convincingly. Same goes for the Joey Ramone style refrain in the closer, Death (“I wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna stay alive”); the archetype is in place and the influence is evident enough, but this new incarnation just doesn’t impress any of the self-importance of its predecessors.
Share The Joy finds Vivian Girls trying to broaden their scope and missing the mark a bit. Certainly, fans of the band will find something to like. And, certainly, there are critics out there who will fawn over the album and laud Vivian Girls as the girl group who aren’t afraid to break the mold. The album is not a complete disappointment, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression one way or the other.