CLOROX GIRLS with the RED DONS, DANGERLOVES and CAREER SUICIDE at Adrift Skate Park (299 Augusta), Saturday (April 21), 7 pm. $10. 416-515-0550. Rating: NNNNN
With so many pop artists trying to pass for punk, it somehow makes sense that primo Portland ignoroid rockers Clorox Girls would go the other way.
They've swapped their usual torn jeans and T-shirts for matching black shirts and skinny red ties like the Plimsouls circa Zero Hour for the photo shoot of their new disc, J'Aime Les Filles (BYO), and recorded their new songs with a handclapping and tambourine-shaking power pop kick. But as the album title nod to Jacques Dutronc suggests, it all comes with an intriguing French yé-yé twist.
These wired-up thugs, who spend most of their time in vans and on friends' couches when not rocking warehouses and skateparks, may be a bit more cultured than anyone suspected. Clocking 200 shows a year, many of them in Europe, has altered their sound as well as their perspective on playing music. And the replacement of bassist Zack Lewis by Daniel H. Sayer has also had a significant effect.
"We were listening to a lot of French music while rehearsing for the album, right up until we went into the studio to record," says frontman Justin Maurer over the cellphone of new drummer Richie Cardenas. "Our new bass player, Daniel, lived over in Europe for a while and picked up a lot of cool Euro-punk stuff. So I'd play him things from Brazil and Argentina and he'd turn me on to these great French and Belgian records by Les Calamités, Starshooter, Plastic Bertrand and Warum Joe. We were listening to all that stuff obsessively over coffee each morning, so that's probably why it shows up on the new album."
While the snappy sound of J'Aime Les Filles isn't a complete departure from the Gears- and early Redd Kross-inspired punk of the two previous Clorox Girls albums, the Dickies-esque use of piano and harmony vocals may be too much to take for the crustier element of their audience. There could be real trouble when word gets out that their shout-along cover of Le Banana Split was originally a huge European hit back in 1980 for Belgian teen-pop sensation Lio, the forerunner of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
"A friend of mine from France gave me the Lio single while we were on tour. When we got back home, I threw it on and I loved it. Ever since, I've had this unhealthy fascination with the song."
Despite the tune's naff origins, the wayClorox Girls thrash and bash their way through it works so remarkably well on the new album, many people probably wouldn't realize the song is a cover. It turns out it was a much better candidate for reinterpretation than many of the songs chosen by fellow Portland residents who contributed covers to the new Bridging The Distance (Arena Rock) compilation disc, a benefit for the non-profit p:ear organization, which mentors homeless and transitional youth.
Maurer doesn't seem too broken up about not being asked to send in a song, knowing now that it might've ended up next to the Joggers' take on Long Distance Runaround by Yes, Viva Voce's version of Eye In The Sky by the Alan Parsons Project, the Decemberists' update of Fleetwood Mac's Think About Me, the Dandy Warhols getting down on the Cult's She Sells Sanctuary or the Snuggle Ups' stab at Bruce Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark.
"There's a huge indie rock scene in Portland, and the people who follow that stuff don't think much of the punk bands in the city, even though many of the punk bands are better at what the indie bands are trying to do now. Portland's really cliquey. Great groups like the Hunches and the Nice Boys (both of whom also aren't on the compilation) are largely overlooked. It's usually recent college grads with a lot of money to throw around who put out these compilations.
"If you're trying to support the local independent music scene, why would you release a compilation that includes mostly bands that are already successful? What about all the bands that aren't yet touring or don't even have a record out that are doing really amazing things?"
WHERE THE GIRLS AREN'T
Clorox Girls weren’t the first dudes to think that putting “girl” in their name was a brilliant idea. The gender-flipping game has been played for years. Here are a few of their manly rivals.
Theoretical Girls Archetypal NYC no wave crew involving Glenn Branca and Wharton Tiers. Margaret DeWys played keyboards, but who's counting?
Girl Trouble Garage rockin' Tacoma troublemakers too smart to get involved with the grunge fad.
Mystery Girls Wisconsin rock 'n' roll fuds who, between them, have dated every woman three-chord guitar player in Montreal - and most of the drummers.
Girl Obscure Texas-based outfit of drummer Chris Purdy, later of Ruffled Feathers. He's now in Richard Lloyd's touring group.
Girl Talk Manic Philly DJ/producer Gregg Gillis, who swiped the name of the 80s-era board game for his mash-up-leaning dancefloor-rocking project.
Additional Audio Interview Clips
Maurer recalls how the group's name has led to some confusion in Mexico
There was also this incident in New Orleans when some enlisted men who went to see the Clorox Girls thought they were paying to see women strippers