Pitchfork Media

Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard
Shotgun Wedding
[Atavistic Reissues]
Rating: 6.9

Once upon a time there was a very strange girl. This girl lived in New York's East Village, and was so fucked up that she became friends with the royal family of weird- as- shit music, Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth helped the weird girl make a few weird albums, but she didn't really wake up until she met a weird-ass prince of her very own. Soon, they rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after and create music that makes your mother cry. The End.

That is the story of Miss Lydia Lunch, Sonic Youth protégé, rock singer and general weird chick, and her prince, Rowland S. Howard. The latest little member of their royal family is the 1999 reissue of their 1991 album Shotgun Wedding, and like everything else Lunch touches, it's as crazy as a shithouse rat. This reissue is all dressed up in its Sunday best, too. The nine studio tracks have been remastered and reissued with a second CD in tow, a live recording of a Lunch/ Howard show that is-- you guessed it-- really, really weird.

Shotgun is a big departure from Lunch's Sonic Youth influenced days, back when she was little more than another instrument for the band to play around with. Mostly, she would write lyrics for the band's unused pieces of music or scrapped studio tracks and tried to build an album out of them. The songs had a certain dark, creepy "Lunch touch" to them, but the albums all sounded like exactly what they were: bad Sonic Youth songs.

With this album, however, Lunch polishes her sound, thanks in part to guypal Rowland Howard, who works the guitars and handles most of the songwriting chores. Although this "new" music doesn't have that fiery "Sonic" creativity of Lydia's old albums, it does have a new, slightly more twisted appeal to it. What Lunch lost in Sonic Youth's constant innovation she more than makes up for in raw, ass movin' groove. This music is funkier, more emotional, and incredibly primal. If "the Youth" is the brain of weird- rock, then Lydia and Rowland are certainly the spleen.

There are a few more tangible benefits to Lunch striking out on her own as well. Let's face it: as talented as they are, Thurston and rest of the Fearsome Foursome have never been known to rock a body, but that's just what Howard and Lunch manage to do all over this album. There's an almost tribal feel to Shotgun Wedding as the beats come out thick and heavy, like blood spraying from an opened artery. There may not be "big beats," but it does a lot to draw you into the music.

The album is unrelentingly dark-- no party tracks or rays of sunshine here. The songs jump from spooky and sombre (such as that ode to shotguns, moonshine and good ol' boys, "Pigeon Town") to creepy and rocking (the cover of Led Zeppelin's "In My Dying Time" has the electricity of a Baptist church hymn). Rowland has brought a new maturity to the mix, too. Gone are Lydia's days of cheap stage theatrics and screaming like her rectum was aflame. This music is suave, subdued, and cool like that vampire that's waiting around the corner to rip your head off and use your neck for a straw.

Shotgun Wedding is a lush, full- sounding album. The band's basic, five instrument setup sounds like a fucking army was crammed into the studio. And even with that full sound, Lunch and Howard still manage to steal the performance spotlight. Lunch's throaty vocals and nutball lyrics keep your ears glued to the speakers, if only to try to figure out what the hell she's talking about. Rowland is a master of his domain, the electric guitar. His compositions may not be the most original on the planet, but they're great for playing off of Lunch's lyrics. There's a definite sense of style here, too-- a feeling of teamwork and some good, solid rock songs. They may do a few too many cover songs for my taste (three songs out of the nine were written by other people), but they do mark their territory well. And putting a new, moody spin on the songs makes for some good listen.

The included live disc (creatively titled Shotgun Wedding Live), on the other hand, is about as average as you could expect a live disc to be. It's all of the Shotgun Wedding tracks done live, with one extra song, "Gospel Singer," written by Lunch and Kim Gordon. The band is passable in concert; they're technically skilled enough to pull off a good show, but it pales in comparison to the studio record. The dark, oppressive mood of the album gets watered down at the big show and a glitch here (and a fuck-up there) starts to dull the music's shine.

Shotgun isn't going to change the face of rock, but it's a good way to while away the time. But if Lunch and Rowland continue on this path, maybe they'll start earning enough money to make the electric bill every month. They have talent and personality that comes by the dumptruck-- more than enough to push themselves to the front of the underground. And after years of fixing Thurston Moore's coffee and ironing Kim Gordon's baby dresses, Lydia deserves it. She and Rowland are finally making music that can stand up for itself. With this album's reissue, and an appearance on the forthcoming "Blair Witch Project" soundtrack, it's finally time for Lunch to step out of the shadows for good. It's a damn good thing she's got friends like Rowland S. Howard to walk along with her.

- Steven Byrd