Ches Smith, y’all! You’d be hard-pressed to pick a better replacement for your drum machine than Mr. Smith, which is what Xiu Xiu decided to do for Women as Lovers. Smith is one of the few people I wouldn’t hesitate to label ‘virtuoso’ but who’s actually interesting to listen to. And it’s not just because the missing drum machine: Women as Lovers is largely devoid of electronics. New directions, new directions. Welcome certainly after the stasis that was The Air Force, paradoxically the first Xiu Xiu album to both do nothing new and not have any tracks I want to skip over.
Things start off impressively enough, with the delicate post-punk of the first two tracks, the four-on-the-floor folk of “F.T.W.” (my favorite track, if you’re asking), and the heavily rhythmic “No Friend Oh!” (my second favorite track, if you’re asking). Things falter a bit with the maybe-too-abstract “Guantanamo Canto” but are totally set back on course when Michael Gira does his Bowie impression on “Under Pressure.” How well Gira and Stewart fill the Bowie and Mercury roles is unsettling, but awesome nonetheless.
However, things go wrong on “Black Keyboard,” specifically the irking line “a child is nothing without hate.” And the remaining tracks are almost impressively unremarkable, completely and totally devoid of interesting things. Absolutely whatever. In the mathematical middle-of-the-road. There’s none of the perfect pop and dirge found on the other albums. The songwriting of its back-half just doesn’t stand up to its front-half or the rest of the band’s catalog.
Despite my belief that Xiu Xiu has been one of the most vital and original bands of the decade, they’ve yet to make a front-to-back vital album (though A Promise, Fabulous Muscles, and La Foret all came tantalizingly close). The full-time addition of Ches Smith and KRS’s promise that it was the band's most ‘human’ effort to date had me hoping Women as Lovers would be that vital album. Alas, it’s not. But I'm still eagerly awaiting their next one.
1. I Do What I Want When I Want
2. In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall
4. No Friend Oh!
5. Guantanamo Canto
6. Under Pressure [ft. Michael Gira]
7. Black Keyboard
8. Master of the Bump (Kurt Stumbaugh, I Can Feel the Soil Falling Over My Head)
9. You Are Pregnant, You Are Dead
10. The Leash
11. Child at Arms
12. Puff and Bunny
13. White Nerd
14. Gayle Lynn