Review: The lack of imagination behind the titling of Veruca Salt’s fourth studio album is reflected in its overall sound. Upon its release in 2006 – twelve years on from the band’s debut – there remained only two constants in the VS camp: the relentless pursuit of the fuzzy 90’s alt-rock aesthetic that had long been their bread and butter, and the presence of singer/guitarist Louise Post. The implosion of the group’s original line-up – completed by singer/guitarist Nina Gordon, drummer Jim Shapiro and bassist Steve Lack – was followed by 2000’s Resolver, a deeply vitriolic collection of songs that wore its vengeance-seeking credentials on its sleeve with tracks such as “Officially Dead” and “Used To Know Her”. Sonically, IV may pack as hard a punch as its predecessors, but the overarching tone is surprisingly fun and hedonistic.
The chorus of thrash-happy lead single “So Weird” – “You don’t know me / you don’t own me / you’re just passing through my life” – may sound distressingly similar to something Ashley Simpson would have recorded at the height of her success, but there’s an irreverent bent to the verses that make it a worthy spiritual successor to previous singles “Volcano Girls” and “All Hail Me”. Listeners may be more intrigued to learn what exactly “texting vegan sex again” entails than they are by the stop-start riff, but it nonetheless makes for an arresting opener. The momentum’s maintained by “Centipede”, which may very well be the most adrenaline-fuelled track any member of the band has put their name to, and the misfiring “Innocent”. The latter’s blend of cruel lyrics (“We’ve got a cutter in the bathroom / She kinda busted out of high school”) and churning guitar evoke an effectively sleazy fleapit atmosphere, but the lazy chorus disappoints. The excellent “Damage Done” tackles related themes, but with fuller production, tough, frenetic riffs and a snarly, stuck-up vocal from Post.
“Circular Trend” and “Perfect Love” show a softer side to the band’s songwriting, with the latter almost coming off as an act of submission. If the idea of Post crooning “I want to be lovely / I want to be cute” makes you feel ill, then you should know it’s a persona she wears for a mercifully brief period of time. While these spikes in compassion provide some welcome deviations, they also yield some of the album’s weakest moments, such as the cheesy, 80’s-tinged dirge “The Sun”, or the dry acoustic ballad “Wake Up Dead”. It’s no surprise that the album’s highlight harks back to the raw wounds of Resolver, as this truly is Post’s comfort zone. “Sick As Your Secrets” enjoys a slow build-up, with simple but effective lyrics and sparse instrumentation, so when it finally does explode, the melodramatics are well-earned.
But this is a fleeting moment of substance. At times Rae DeLio’s muscled production attempts to make up for IV’s flimsy melodies, but more than anything the record misses a compelling theme akin to the emotional exorcisms of Resolver or American Thighs’s growing pains. But it does offer some solid additions to the Veruca Salt canon, with this particular incarnation – which included Resolver guitarist Stephen Fitzpatrick, drummer Kellii Scott and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Nicole Fiorentino – working hard to make their presence felt. By the album’s end, you may very well miss their contributions to the band’s latest project; the original line-up are due to release new material later this year.