Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes (Cover Artwork)

Veruca Salt

Ghost Notes (2015)

El Camino Media

Veruca Salt are back after 18 years! That's a sentence that is in need of an asterisk or two. The band was formed in the early '90s by co-songwriters Louise Post and Nina Gordon. Their largest pop cultural achievements to date are MTV staple "Seether" and the self referential "Volcano Girls." Go ahead and listen to those to jog your memory. This review will be here waiting for you when you get back. After 1997's, Eight Arms to Hold You, Gordon left the band due to supposedly intense disagreements and creative differences. Details of this period are scarce, as the band had neither the international success of Fleetwood Mac or the rabid fanbase of Hüsker Dü for rumors of their altercations to blow out of proportion and into the stratosphere. Post went on to continue the band as the sole original member, intermittently releasing EPs and albums, the last of which was 2006's IV. The entire original lineup (including rhythm section Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack) reunited in 2013 and played some shows before releasing a Record Store Day single last year. So, yes, (the original members of) Veruca Salt are back after 18 years (without a full-length album by this particular lineup). For better or worse, nothing much has changed in those 18 years.

Now, in 2015, the band does not lack any competition, with acts like Bully, Swearin' and Yuck (and Torres, Potty Mouth, Colleen Green, JEFF the Brotherhood, etc.) operating with the benefit of hindsight, taking a little bit from Exit to Guyville here and swiping a move from No Pocky for Kitty there. Veruca Salt have to separate themselves from this newer, younger crop of bands carrying the '90s alternative rock torch. They do so here by releasing songs that were actually written in the '90s. Apparently most of the songs were partially written, but then abandoned after Gordon left the band. They certainly sound like they came from that era, with brisk, crunchy guitars and lilted melodies. Even former producer Brad Wood (who also worked with The Sea and Cake, Sunny Day Real Estate and Liz Phair) returns to make sure the band retains their '90s sound. The only major changes are the lyrics, which allude to the band's dormancy and negative exposure to the music industry. Gordon and Post intertwine their vocals, creating a healthy back and forth that lifts their melodies out of the mire of sheer mediocrity. Despite their differences as songwriters (you don't have to look at the credits to see who wrote which song), Post and Gordon have voices that fit well together (as can be heard in "Come Clean Dark Thing"), creating a balance that is often missing in other bands with two distinct songwriters.

With their two bona fide radio/MTV hits, Veruca Salt were able to make more of a pop culture impact than peers Cake Like or That Dog., yet they were a far cry from stalwarts like Weezer, who also stayed at arms length away from the grunge and punk music that infiltrated alternative rock at the time. So, as self aware as ever, Veruca Salt realize that they can't exactly rest on their laurels with this new album, since those laurels are few and far between. The band's first two albums both push past the 50 minute mark, and they feel bloated and messy because of it. Compare those with Weezer's Blue Album or Last Splash by The Breeders, both of which keep things around the 40 minute mark and are much better because of it. Unfortunately, with Ghost Notes hitting 55 minutes, it suffers the same overloaded fate as Veruca Salt's previous efforts. OId habits die hard, I suppose.

American Thighs is a solid album with more to it than "Seether," but it certainly isn't an underrated classic. Veruca Salt's albums were often weighed down with forced, mid-tempo tracks that the band never quite had the ability to pull off. This album suffers from more of the same, with songs like "Empty Bottle" and closer "Alternica" tempting you to reach for the "next" button. The faster-paced songs don't always fare much better, as they can lack the melodic punch the band is obviously aiming for. Much like the albums that came before it, Ghost Notes feels uneven. Songs like "Lost to Me" and "The Sound of Leaving" are both trying to achieve the same thing, but the former fares far better than the latter. The album is also woefully front-loaded, with opening trio "The Gospel According to Saint Me," "Black and Blonde" and "Eyes on You" being the catchiest songs the album has to offer. Veruca Salt find themselves yet again in need of an editor.

2015 has seen new music from several '90s bands, both big (Blur) and small (Failure). With Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt simply says "Oh, me too" and picks up exactly where they left off (which wasn't too far from where they started in the first place). They were never a band looking to push themselves too far away from their core sound, and that is totally fine. If you like American Thighs, then you'll like this album. It's as simple as that. Ghost Notes is a perfectly solid album, but there's nothing here that is going to prevent fans from screaming for "Seether" at Veruca Salt's live shows.