Veruca Salt took the modest ambitions of their debut record American Thighs to new extremes with its follow-up, 1997’s Eight Arms to Hold You. Where the undemanding lyrics of its predecessor were met with understated melodies and a fun, artless spirit, this effort arrives suffocated by Metallica cohort Bob Rock’s one-trick production.
For anyone who picked up their stopgap release – the punctuation-defying, credibility-baiting Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt E.P. – the warning signs were clear and present. Even in the hands of the brilliant Steve Albini, the disc’s two uptempos were cluttered and moronic, the downtempos bloated and devoid of conviction. If Albini – the man behind a many a stellar Nirvana, Pixies and Joanna Newsom production, amongst others – couldn’t wring results from these young upstarts, what hope did Rock have?
Frustratingly, Eight Arms rarely wants for a great tune. As I said in my American Thighs review, this record offers on a platter what “Seether” could only promise in vain: a collection of loud, aggressive exercises in riot-grrrl-infused pop. And if that’s all you’re after, then this fourteen-track set should entertain you. With chainsaw-style guitars, a simple, shout-along chorus and some celestial harmonies to boot, lead single “Volcano Girls” is still irresistible. “Venus Man Trap” and “Awesome” offer more of the same, although both do manage to forge their own identity, be it through the former’s occasional ten-second lapses into doom-laden metal or the latter’s endearingly clumsy elongation of its titular adjective.
What it lacks is variety. Winsome power ballad “One Last Time” attempts to switch things up a little, but soon loses itself in the Bob Rock vortex – all popping drums and sludgy guitars – which, admittedly, suit it rather well. Subsequent torch songs “Benjamin” and “Loneliness is Worse” suffer from either lazy songwriting or inevitably dramatic instrumental breakdowns, exposing the skeletal melody of what went before.
Closing epic “Earthcrosser” packs a wallop with a truly anthemic chorus, and although the tinkling piano is a nice touch, Rock’s feeble attempt at recreating a string section proves to be a bit of an anti-climax.
From a lyrical standpoint, both Post and Gordon seemed to have given up on the concept of subtlety. Key offenders include their stabs at conveying anger (“You monkey – you left me!”), the woes of romantic alienation (“December’s all alone / and he’s calling me on the phone / but he sounds so cold”) and the morning after a drunken brawl (the entirety of “The Morning Sad”, basically). It would take two break-ups for Post get some bite back into her songwriting.
Eight Arms was an underwhelming bow out for the original Veruca Salt line-up. Whether or not that American Thighs spark will continue to elude them in the wake of their recent reunion remains to be seen, but in the meantime Post fans can take solace in the fact that the second-best was yet to come, in the form of 2001’s aural revenge-fantasy Resolver…