You could go on and on about bands that were either forgotten, or not really known during their time. The overall attitude that comes from the diehard fans is usually travesty that they were not recognized or talked about. I sorta feel the same way I guess when it comes to Oklahoma’s own Chainsaw Kittens (1989-2000).
What irks me about the time when the band was still around is that they went completely ignored and the music they released was of very high quality and highly praised by those who gave them a chance (*Ethan Embry wears a CK shirt in the film Empire Records!*). You see, they came about during the whole 90’s Alternative phase. They could fit right in with bands like Nirvana, Gin Blossoms and the Pixies. The problem with that is many more bands also tapped into the same sorta sound. An overabundance I guess.
What makes the band unique, beside geographical location, is that their music is seeped with inspiration from what lead singer Tyson Meade carried. Meade is an outsider. He was a punk. He was gay. He often at times dressed up in drag and glam and tore through the stage with a swagger that was both confrontational, but also limitless in sporadic change. His singing is Bowie inspired crossed with perhaps some Iggy Pop. Moreover, his lyrics insightful and personal. He was the heart of the band and the secret weapon. He was the definition of “Alternative”.
Going back to Meade’s high school days, he started a short-lived band called Defenestration who released one ep and one full length. That one ep is mentioned as an inspiration for Kurt Cobain. However, time passed and Defenestration broke up with Chainsaw Kittens emerging shortly after.
First album released by the band was 1990’s Violent Religion. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins often talked about how much that one album meant to him and he highly praised the band. (*My first concert was Smashing Pumpkins in OKC in 1996. Billy asked the crowd if they liked Chainsaw Kittens. A few cheers happened. That was the first time I ever heard of the band. I didn’t listen to them until almost 20 years later…*)
Riding the underground momentum and critic praise the band released 1992’s Flipped out in Singapore. According to Meade about the album:
“We were about to start making our second record ... and the label wanted us to have Butch Vig produce it. We didn't know who he was because he hadn't done the Nirvana record yet. But we said we'd check him out. He was doing Gish at that point, and he got our first record, Violent Religion, in the mail and I guess he played it for Billy, and Billy totally loved it-'Oh Butch, you've got to do this band!”
As the Glam thrift-store transvestism started to overshadow the music, the band shifted aside and became more tightly focused, and with an almost entirely new lineup, released their third and best album, 1994’s Pop Heiress. Often called an American Brit-Pop album, Pop Heiress kept most of the same style of previous releases (attitude and rawness), but also incorporated sounds coming from bands like Cheap Trick, New York Dolls, T-Rex, and of course Bowie (Rock and Roll yo).
Opening track "Sore on the Floor" erupts upon the listener with pounding drums and speedy riffs then culminates with the screeching sound of Meade bellowing as if he is Sam Kinison in a Hair Metal band. It is quite the rapturous greeting and has close ties to the heavier side of Rock. It’s almost like loud area rock, but except you would only see this in a small club in Norman, OK. It works well and the style and sound carries over pretty much the rest of the album. Second track "Loneliest China Place" is a really nice simple Rock song which has some feels reminiscent of old college radio acts like Buffalo Tom and the omega level of classic R.E.M. Meade sings with such splendor and lack of fear and doubt in his voice that you can’t help but be inspired by his vigor.
"Pop Heiress Dies" was an album single and it’s quite good. The opening guitar riffs are a prime example of that “sound” bands often had at the time when making a catchy single. What I mean by “sound” is you gotta grab the listener upon the first note and dig in deep to get that ear worm working. Take for example the opening chords of “I Got a Girl” by Tripping Daisy, or perhaps “Santa Monica” by Everclear. Heck even the Flaming Lips did it once with “She Don’t Use Jelly”. It’s hard to understand at first what I’m getting at, but you don’t often hear this anymore because guitar riffs have become so sterile the past ten or so years. Maybe even longer than that. Creativity is scarce in originality. But of course there’s the chance that some garage band is cooking up something nice and is catchy and that’s great! I hope to hear something like that again…
Moving on, there are some more somber slower numbers on the album that stand out in contrast to the rest. The tracks "Dive into the Sea" and "Soldier on My Shoulder" offer perhaps the meatiest content. "Dive into the Sea" builds up like a power ballad with some slightly Jazzy guitars and stringed instrumentation ala “Disarm” by Smashing Pumpkins, but then concludes with major shredding by lead guitarist Trent Bell that wouldn’t be out of place on a Guns N’ Roses track.
"Soldier on My Shoulder" is like the bands version of “Space Oddity”. That’s a compliment because their love of Bowie gets to shine without sounding like blatant rip-off.
Other tunes to check out are "Burn You Down", "Silver Millionaire", and “Media Star Hymn". Album closer "We're Like..." is nice with quiet acoustic and electric guitars that build and build to the eventual fade out. One of those types of closers that is a bit long and feels fitting in the entirety of the album. It doesn’t overstay its welcome because Meade brings us home at the finish line.
Great from beginning to end. No filler.
Wrapping this up, Pop Heiress is an oddity in some ways because you hear it and wonder, “Why haven’t I heard this before? It seems like something that could have been on the radio somewhere…” I would say that is the travesty of the band. They should have gotten more dang attention.
(Pop Heiress was Reissued in 2016 on vinyl format in a very limited quantity of 225 (100 black, 100 red, and 25 Wax Mage variants) through Spinfinite Records. Owners of the label were huge fans and “wished” the vinyl into existence. You can still score at copy at this time on their site http://spinfiniterecords.com)