Words by Brian Salvatore
Veruca Salt are a band that are remembered as a footnote in the history of the ‘alternative’ explosion of the mid-90s. “Seether” was an MTV staple, but their video success was a double edged sword; two attractive women playing the guitar was presented as something of a novelty, and the band was never given the respect they were due. After their second album, the slick and catchy Eight Arms to Hold You, guitarist and vocalist Nina Gordon left the band, and the spark that existed between her and co-founder Louise Post was gone. Their next two records did substantially less business in the states, and by 2012 were on ‘indefinite hiatus.’
Well, the entire original lineup is back for Ghost Notes, and in many ways, it sounds like they never left. The sound is a return to the dirtier sonics of their debut record, American Thighs, both produced by Brad Wood, but there is something different at play here, too: the confidence that the band has in their songs is downright astounding. The album is chock full of songs that remind you of their earlier work, but everything is presented with the conviction of an older and wiser band behind it.
Album opener “The Gospel According to Saint Me” warns the listener that it is going to get loud and heavy, and those words ring true throughout the record. The band doesn’t hold back when it wants to rock out, and it does a fantastic job of letting each song live and inhabit its own world. “The Sound of Leaving” is a muddy, mid tempo slog that features some great harmonies, as well as some spoken word buried in the mix, which builds a sense of paranoia and unease into the track. “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” is a hit in any just universe; the song’s hook every bit as catchy and immediate as the best from their mid-90s heyday.
The band sounds revitalized, with the rhythm section locked in tightly, creating a bed that lets Post and Gordon sound like a million bucks, whether with their close harmonies or uncorking their powerful guitars. “The Museum of Broken Relationships” and “Alternica,” the penultimate and final tracks on the record, respectfully, build and build, adding tension and intrigue with each passing verse, eventually giving in to the pressure and shifting into near arena-rock endings. But these tracks also bear lyrics that are far and away the most intense and meaningful of their career. Many tracks split the difference between anger and melancholia, with genuine frustration and a yearning that wouldn’t have seemed possible in 1997.
More than anything else, this record is a powerful reminder that just because a band is removed from the current trend, it doesn’t mean that they’re any less powerful. Ghost Notes, for the first time in nearly two decades, makes Veruca Salt sound like a band that belongs in the conversation about great records of the year. And if that isn’t a genuinely surprising notion, then I don’t know what is.
© July 10th, 2015
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