I’m not sure what the appeal is about all-girl rock bands. Okay, I mean I understand the appeal of having three to five women on stage cranking out hard driving rock and roll—it’s way sexy for guys and way empowering for women—odd combo, that. But let’s take The Runaway’s for example. What made them so iconic? Was it because 1) they were all women, 2) was it their talent or 3) was it their visceral approach? If you’re thinking all three, I would argue maybe 1 and 3, but compared to their peers The Runaways weren’t all that talented. Lita Ford showed promise but Joan Jett was and still is an average rhythm guitarist (gutsy but average). Cherie Currie and the rest were all marginal musicians. So number 2 is right out. I think it was because they were the first out of the gates. They stepped into a male dominated world and said, “f* you. We can rock too.”
If that was then, what’s the appeal now? Why do record labels and the general public still get excited about all-girl bands?
All this is to position a review on the Barbe-Q-Barbies, a Finnish all-girl band with one record (All Over You) under their belts and another on its way this year. Here’s what I have been struggling with over the last week or so that I spent listening to All Over You again and again and again: Is this band good and, if so, what makes them good? And why the hell can’t people think of an all-girl band as just a band and judge them on their musical merits?
So let’s go through the checklist:
1) Are the Barbe-Q-Barbies all women? Yes, and hell yes. And they’re Finnish, which means they’re hot. You see, the American perception of Finland is that all the women are drop dead gorgeous. If this was a role playing game, women from Finland would get a plus two on their charisma. (That’s to all my nerd friends out there. For the rest of you, please don’t debunk that myth by sending photos, btw).
2) Are the Barbe-Q-Barbies talented? Well, most of their songs sound like AC/DC knock off’s. But that says more about style than talent. I’m not a musician, but this I can say:
Niki is a fabulous rock vocalist. She has a sassy swagger to her voice and though I wouldn’t let her front a symphonic goth band, I could pretty much listen to her nonstop.
Ekkis’s lead guitar work is good enough for rock and roll. She’s no Yngwie Malmsteen, but she doesn’t need to be. How many solos have you heard Pete Townsend play and look how damned popular The Who are. For the style of music they play, Ekkis is great.
Kaisa on rhythm guitar is a great fit. Again, on the complexity scale this is right in there with AC/DC and KISS. Kaisa also does backing vocals. Interesting. I mean, Joan Jet played rhythm and did backing vocals. Who knows, maybe Kaisa will break away, go solo and inspire generations.
Minttu is on bass. She seems better than average. And she looks like she’s always having a blast on stage. Big grin, confident fingering, commanding stage presence. I like Minttu. Good stuff there.
Niina is a solid drummer. Nothing extraordinary going on there. Not a Neil Peart, but could probably out drum Peter Criss.
3) Are the Barbe-Q-Barbies visceral? By that I mean are they gutsy and raw? Lyrically, they are more Donnas than Bikini Kill. There’s no, and I mean zero, social commentary going on in Barbe-Q-Barbie lyrics. While there are some songs that come close to fist-in-your-face angst (“Aggression” for instance) there are also some embarrassingly juvenile songs. “Twisted Little Sister” could use a lyric make over and the clap along “Wig-Wam Bam” is a little silly. I should also say that musically “Twisted Little Sister” rocks. That, dear class, is irony.
If you gauge the album on how crankable it is, how many times you’re looking for the 11 on the dial, well, that’s most of the album. Bottom line is the Barbe-Q-Barbies rock. They need some maturing, but if you look at videos from them in 2007 and where they are now, they’ve come a long way already.
So, I still don’t know the appeal of all-girl rock bands. I know I have liked a lot of them from The Runaways to Girlschool to Bikini Kill. Hard rocking girl bands will always have a place in my heart and by the preponderance of them I think record labels are banking on that.
By the way, there is also a weird AC/DC and girl band connection. Maybe it’s because the AC/DC sound is so basic. If you think I’m crazy, there’s a girl band from Las Vegas called Jaggedy Ann who are backed by Phil Rudd of AC/DC fame. If you’re curious, they totally rock. Would love to see them open for the Barbies.
Not sure we moved the needle on the girl band debate. My estimation of Barbe-Q-Barbies is they are here to stay. Looking forward to picking up their second album and hoping they just keep improving. Also hoping they make it state side.