by Nik Rainey
With the runaway success of the Lilith Fair this past summer, women have finally achieved parity with men in popular music - they've exercised their ineffable right to be reduced to a bland gender cliché. The glass ceiling's been shattered at last, but far too many are tiptoeing gingerly about lest any shards get stuck in their bare feet. Babes in Toyland, PJ Harvey, even Courtney and Tori... forget it. The rock world can't handle such complexity. (No) thanks to Alanis and Jewel, ambiguity's in the dumpster with last month's Tampax. You gotta be either an avenging, humorless Lolita getting your ass-length tresses in a tangle over some creep who blew you off after you blew him or a folk-strummin' puddle of hippie-chick homilies if you wanna shift unit one these days. (Bonus points if you are now or have ever been a lesbian, 'cause it's in to be out, donut bumpers.) Estrogeneration X has finally commandeered the main stage, and I guess it'd be sexist of me to assume that, unlike the men, they'd avoid typecasting themselves to succeed, but it still saddens me to witness such freshly-pioneered territory get plowed smooth so quickly. Sorry to impose my liberal-media bleeding-heart on you, ladies; if you need a hand clambering down off that pedestal, let me know.
The upshot of all this dubious prattle is that, if something as difficult, unclassifiable and real, yet unmistakably female, as The Geraldine Fibbers were to show up at next year's Lilithpalooza, the shockwave caused by a million Susan Falaudi books hitting the ground in unison would probably level ten city blocks. There's just no place for the likes of lead Fibber Carla Bozulich in the New Girl Order, much less in the pop world at large - which means, like so many other noteworthy and original bands, they're likely to be cherished only by fuckos like me who get their CDs for free in the mail, while, out in the world, their SoundScan monitors are flatlining. It happened in '95 with Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, their thrilling debut, and it looks like Butch is gonna be sharing its compartment on the last train to Nowheresville. And that's a damn shame, cuz the traits that make Bozulich sexual persona non grata in the chick-rock marketing scheme, combined with the alternately harsh and soothing character of the music, will ring in the ears of all who dare to listen long after Meredith Brooks returns to her old job behind the register at Denny's.
Bozulich (who began her career in the sex-mad Ethyl Meatplow) doesn't play up the whole woman hurt/scorned routine for mere tabloid-trash effect or to send those delicate fists in the crowd aloft in shared sisterhood - her words hint broadly at a life as damaged goods but in an oblique, none-of-your-goddamn-business way that smacks of the mildly pretentious poetic decadence of Wild Gift-era X. A fitting comparison, since not only does the Fibbers' avant-country-punk collision share reference points with that classic outfit, but, as fellow Los Angelenos, their sound is thickened and hardened by dust, smog, cig smoke and car exhaust, a fevered urban-desert mirage of repressed memory, hallucination and dark fantasy. The music has taken on a harsher cast than on their debut (thanks to legendary Northwest producer Steve Fisk and versatile new guitarist Nils Cline), which gives swift numbers like "I Killed The Cuckoo" an angular art-punk pummel that'd drive Steve Albini to jealous distraction and plays up the abandon in Bozulich's virulent screeches (the way she handles the line "You... might... think... I... HATE YOU!!" one-ups even the grrrls of yore, "yore" in rock terms meaning about three years ago), but also reveals ragged edges in the brace of honky-tonk-angel-in-purgatory numbers in the middle of the album in ways that make the Patsily (in)Clined torch 'n' twangers of today sound like piles of mannerisms in designer denims. And there are few bands that use the violin so creatively, from intimate chamber instrument to square-dance fiddle to a squealing, avant-garde terror (in their cover of Can's "Yoo Doo Right," it engages in a blood match with the guitar) that'll traumatize your cats. As Butch wears on, the fight goes out of Bozulich's voice and the music takes a morbid, dirge-like tone, before shutting her up altogether on the creepily gentle music-boxed finale, "Heliotrope." But it's that voice, whether it's singing "My shell on top of your knotty fist with a speculum shoved up my cunt" or "the fairies serve me tea in a buttercup - and I'm gone," that makes the Geraldine Fibbers such an enthralling, harrowing experience, every crag and fissure denying the simplified roles that women in music have backed themselves into, speaking for one rather than pandering to all.