As Samuel Johnson put it,
A quibble [pun] is to Shakespeare what luminous vapours are to the traveller! He follows it to all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible.
Despite Johnson’s opinion that puns are the lowest form of humor, there’s a surprising absence of irritation caused by Joanna Gruesome’s moniker. Or perhaps it’d be better to say that they delight in the scuzzy and the lo(w) fi.
A hint of Lush and a ton of rush — Weird Sister is addictive, as evidenced in the hookiness of aptly-named “Sugarcrush” or the surf-rock-referencing “Wussy Void.” The absolute hit of the bunch, “Secret Surprise,” declares: “I’ll make you talk if you don’t wanna/ You want me so much you can’t breathe/ I dream of pulling out your teeth,” lyrics that point to the edginess lying beneath the fuzzy surface, whether it’s the cold, sweet spike of ice cream directly on dentin, or the viciousness of post-breakup vengeance fantasies.
But it’s also telling — and here’s our language issue again, the circle it’s impossible to step outside — that “Secret Surprise” has the vocals highest in the mix, while elsewhere they tend to be buried treasure. There’s a hallowed tradition of the inaudible lyric in the genres the band is working in, but this inaudibility is definitely a tease given their adorable song titles (“Anti Parent Cowboy Killers”) — not to mention the label’s descriptions (Driving scooters into the ocean? Burning knitwear? Yes, please.). And given also that we’re heading in for three and a half decades of twee, there’s a lot of music that sounds like this — those pesky words would’ve been appreciated. Like Juliana Hatfield’s sister, it means they’re talking to themselves.
But as Boswell, Johnson’s famous biographer had it, “all censure of a man’s self is oblique praise;” and not everyone wants it all explained. On Weird Sister, Joanna Gruesome exotic blooms — forget the Ys and wherefores, and cue some!