Oxford duo Little Fish have been knocking around for a few years now and managed to create enough of a buzz with their early live performances that producer Linda Perry’s interest was suitably pricked.
The result of their tireless work is Baffled And Beat which sees Perry getting to grips with the band’s raw and energetic live sound. Fans of Little Fish’s earlier work may well have been concerned to see the addition of a third member primed to supply Hammond organ on the recent tour with Alice In Chains and a spot with Hole, but they needn’t have worried. For the most part Perry has left vocalist/guitarist Juju and drummer Nez to their own devices and kept the tinkering to a minimum.
Bang Bang! is a feral garage-band stomp with Juju spitting her words out in a skewed rap/rant that echoes Elvis Costello‘s Pump It Up before she dissolves into rock ‘n’ roll gibberish with the refrain. What is clear is that Juju has been working hard on her voice. Where once she was merely wild and untamed, she’s now exploiting her range expertly. She holds back when she needs to adopt a cool Strummeresque drawl and occasionally explodes into a shrieking rage which verges on the terrifying.
Recent single Darling Dear sets the stall out in terms of content; there’s plenty of broken hearts and crazy to go around on this album. Musically it’s a fairly straight swipe of the Velvet Undergrounds’ Heroin, complete with undulating time signatures, but this tale of a relationship and a mind gone badly awry fits the blueprint perfectly. As the song climaxes, Juju’s got a gun to her head and is shrieking in a voice that emulates the skronking saxophone solos of John Zorn. To say that it’s hair-raising is something of an understatement.
The theme of madness continues with Am I Crazy?, a slow building garage rocker that hits paydirt with a feverish chorus. Utterly straightforward from start to finish, there’s no fat to be found on it anywhere, meaning that it hits hard and fast, just as it should.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Sweat N Shiver, which has Perry’s fingerprints all over it. The Hammond organ makes itself an unwelcome distraction to the band’s usual raw sound and Juju’s new-found range is thoroughly tempered. Even the customary “losing-it” climax lacks any real bite. Completely over produced and re-shaped into an MOR pop-rock song, it doesn’t sit right in the context of the rest of the album.
Likewise the ill-judged piano balladry of�Luck’s Run Out fails to play to the band’s strengths. Vocally it’s all a bit thin and reedy, and musically there’s no punch. It just drifts by in a grey uninteresting cloud. It’s probably no coincidence that the refrain of the song is a maudlin “I’ve lost my way”.
Other than these blips, Baffled And Beat is a strong album. There’s the Patti Smith informed stomp of the breakneck Whiplash or the hazy thrum of Die Young which evokes a desert baked Chrissie Hynde. The highlight, however, comes courtesy of the tender terror of Heroine Dance which finds Juju in ballad territory again. This time her vocals are filled with a bruised conviction that’s strong and elegant.
With Baffled And Beat, Little Fish are on their way to proving that size isn’t everything – they could well be pretty big fish before too long.