It’s 2015 and the nineties have come home to roost.
How else to explain new material from Blur and Kendrick Lamar “interviewing” Tupac on To Pimp A Butterfly? Or the glorious return of platform sandals and Sleater-Kinney? Or, as of right now, Clinton-era alt rock stalwarts Veruca Salt reentering the fray with a brand new album, original lineup intact?
In the words of 1997 (which just so happens to be the last time the band’s original lineup recorded an album together prior to Ghost Notes), boo yeah!
This is Veruca Salt almost exactly as we remember them, classic mid-nineties grunge grit and that unmistakable girl power snarl cranked up to eleven. The band acts as purveyors of their own nostalgia, treating the last two decades as nothing more than a mere formality. And man, they’re good at it. Just because they’re driving in reverse doesn’t mean they’re not driving hard and fast. “Love You Less” packs no less of punch because it sounds like a hidden track on the Ten Things I Hate About You soundtrack. Nor does the vintage grime on the guitars within the fiery “Laughing In the Sugar Bowl” dull frontwomen Nina Gordon and Louise Post’s ferocity and na-na-na-ing. This is what happens when you set off illegal fireworks in the middle of Memory Lane.
The very existence of Ghost Notes proves that Veruca Salt are back, but the record still spends a hefty chunk of time explaining and bragging about the risen Veruca Salt’s new dawn, second wind, whatever. The most obvious example of phoenix peacocking comes packaged in the pleasantly melodic “I’m Telling You Now”, with Gordon and Post declaring they’re still standing among the ruins using tired lyrical clichés. On “Triage” both frontwomen assert that they are “alive and ticking inside” Okay, we get it. You’re back. Message received. Move on.
When Veruca Salt shifts focus to things other than Veruca Salt, they sound most like their old selves. “I don’t wanna drown unless you’re drowning with me,” Gordon sneers on cutting highlight “Empty Bottle”. True to their grunge roots, they go heavy on the loud-quiet-loud and hard-hitting crescendos. It’s a lot to take in all at once, just as it should be.
The back half of Ghost Notes tilts towards its finale, and justifiably so given the brilliance of the final two tracks. “Museum of Broken Relationships” conjures fond memories of Hole and Elastica, bounding through the speakers on the back of an irrepressible bassline, a drum machine and a chorus that demands a sing-along. Album closer “Alternica” takes the opposite approach, starting low and tight and slithering towards its enormous climax. Aided by an unexpected brass section and a tremendous guitar solo, the intricate “Alternica” is the sound of Veruca Salt settling into middle age with grace and power – and no worse (or quieter) for the wear.
The same could be said for all of Ghost Notes, a record disarmingly sincere in its nostalgia and a welcome addition to their discography. Veruca Salt are not so much self-referential as they are a complete, continuing version of themselves. Ghost Notes is proof. It’s also a darn good album.