Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15: Babes In Toyland, "He's My Thing"

Artist: Babes In Toyland
Song: "He's My Thing"
Album: Spanking Machine
Year: 1987

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Though they are rarely given the same level of credit as their male counterparts in almost every style of music, one can easily argue that as a female-led band becomes louder and more aggressive, the less acknowledgment they receive.  This trend goes back to the very beginnings of recorded music, and yet as heavy metal and punk began to gain a foot-hold, it became far more obvious.  Yet in many cases, it is the female-led bands of these genres that represent the pinnacle of aggression and sheer volume, and there are few groups that represent this idea better than Babes In Toyland.  Without question one of the most brutal, yet uniquely captivating bands in all of music history, one can easily see how they paved the way for almost every female-fronted rock band that followed.  Bringing a tone and passion that were far beyond any of their peers, each of their records has managed to retain its punch to this day, and due to the time when their debut was released, it can also be argued as an integral pre-cursor to the so-called "grunge" movement.  That album, 1987's Spanking Machine, remains one of the most hostile, yet truly mesmerizing musical documents in history, as the group holds absolutely nothing back in any sense of the word.  Every track seems to jump through the speakers with an almost unsettling sense of urgency, and one can quickly understand just why Babes In Toyland are held in such high regard by hearing their 1987 song, "He's My Thing."

If one completely separates the musical element on "He's My Thing" from the vocals, the fact that Babes In Toyland remain rightly labeled as a metal or even "thrash" act might be a bit confusing.  There is a grinding swing that is instantly set into placed by guitarist Kat Bjelland and drummer Lori Barbero, and the song takes on a bit of a rockabilly tone.  Though some may find it hard to hear this element, there is no question that the songs' musical arrangement has a bit of a Cramps-esque feel to it, and it is this unique musical take that pushes "He's My Thing" above the rest of the songs on the album.  Bassist Michelle Leon injects a fantastic, dark groove into the song,and it is through her performance that the song is able to gain much of its imposing presence.  Making her sound more pronounced than most of her peers, Leon becomes the driving force of the songs' aggression, and there are moments when her playing seems as if it is almost provoking the listener.  Yet it is the way in which the three instruments come crashing together that makes "He's My Thing" such an amazing musical experience, as the band is clearly unapologetic for their sound, but there is also a clear and controlled form to their playing.  The fact that they are able to strike such a perfect balance is what makes "He's My Thing" such a fantastic song, and it is also the element that separates Babes In Toyland from almost all of their peers.

However, while the musical elements may be able to show their inspiration from other genres, the ferocity and frustration that comes from the voice of Kat Bjelland remains absolutely unmatched to this day.  Simply put, while there are many who have attempted a similar style, once one hears her performance on "He's My Thing," it is clear that no other such singer even comes close.  Though it is far too widely used, there is perhaps no better an example of the correct use of the term "venomous," when one describes Bjelland's vocals, and the way in which her singing manages to completely re-shape the musical arrangement is a testament to her uncanny talents.  Certainly taking its base from the work of Patti Smith, Bjelland is able to raise the overall level of intensity, and yet even when she is screaming, there is a sense of complete purpose and control within her singing.  It is also the fact that the lyrics which Bjelland spits are as direct and unrelenting as the other elements of the song that serves as an ideal finishing touch to "He's My Thing."  Unquestionably one of the most unique songs of true love for a partner, Bjelland gives what can only be taken as a warning when she yells, "...stay away from my thing, why don't you get your own one around?"  Yet one cannot deny the sense of empowerment that is present as well, and Bjelland completely separates the band from their peers when she asserts, "... I kept for myself and not for you..."

Truly creating a "perfect storm" of heavy metal brilliance, one cannot overstate just how important Babes In Toyland have been to the overall development of music.  While the obvious impact can be heard in all of the female-fronted bands that followed, one cannot deny the impact their sound and style had on the still developing  "grunge" movement.  Preceding the explosion of that sound by almost five years, Babes In Toyland are quite deserving of the label of "musical trailblazers," and there is no question that they easily hold their own when compared to their male counterparts.  The level of intensity in their music is perhaps only matched by the raw sense of honesty one can find, and few groups represent the idea of "chaotic beauty" as perfectly as one finds in Babes In Toyland.  It is the way in which the vocals are able to move past a simple presentation of rage and become thought provoking in their own way that sets the band apart from their peers, and while it can be said of some of their followers, there is absolutely nothing on "He's My Thing" that sounds artificial or forced.  The wild energy seems to flow naturally from all three members of the band, and the entire album is one of the best representations of a record that simply cannot be ignored.  Bringing a sense of beauty and melody to the thrash and heavy metal blueprint, there are few songs from any band that can compare to the chaotic splendor that is Babes In Toyland's pivotal 1987 song, "He's My Thing."

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