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Girls and the redemption of pop-rock

Ross Finney | Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Despite all expectations, Girls have outdone themselves with their sophomore album, “Father, Son, Holy Ghost.” Spiritual only in the loosest sense, this album is pop-rock classicism at its finest, and is certainly one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums released this year.

The group’s excellent debut, simply called “Album,” introduced the indie rock world to singer and guitarist Chris Owens, a romantic with Elvis Costello’s voice and a background (including being raised in the notorious Children of God Cult) that gives a dark edge to his sentimentality.  Owens, Chet “JR” White (writer, bassist and producer) and a rotation of other temporary members followed their debut last year with a good, if not exactly groundbreaking, EP that left some worried this group would be a one-album wonder.

No need to fear. Girls bring their A-game with topnotch tunes and excellent production.

Owens’ songwriting on the newest LP works best because each track plays like a familiar melody. At various points, you can sense the echoes and penumbras of Paul Simon, Eric Clapton and even Alex Chilton, but delivered with a sadness and heartfelt earnestness that is unmistakably Owens. 

Don’t be put off by “Vomit,” the lead single from the album. Despite the strong name, the lyrics and sound are pure pop gold. One of many lovelorn tracks on the album, the song benefits from a full rock band backing and recalls the ability of Tom Petty to make even slow songs rock. 

“Honey Bunny,” the album’s opening track is a relatively happy jaunt that takes any number of ballad clichés and turns them on their heads to aching effect. Initially driven by instrumentation that recalls surf-rock, the real magic of the song comes in the breakdown, which is mellow and melancholy, but still beautiful in its simplicity.

“Die” will draw in the real rockers. A surprisingly hard-edged track, the bass and guitar recall Black Sabbath, but the anger Owens can muster is neither menacing nor spiteful, despite the song’s aggressiveness. 

It certainly draws from the band’s origins in the San Francisco punk rock scene, but, like the whole album, it is more personal than political. The lyrics are pointed and precise, but hardly lecture.

The second half of the album slows down the tempo and, like the group’s debut, it takes a listen to get into. Critics will call the album top-heavy, but the dichotomy of the album’s two sides is clearly intentional. While one may disagree with the aesthetic choice, it can hardly be called a deficiency.

Second-half cuts like “Just a Song,” or the, dare I say, Beatle-esque, “Magic” are at least as strong lyrically and musically as any songs on the first side. One never gets bored with the album.

They say you have your whole life to write your first album; it’s the second that proves a songwriter. Chris Owens and Girls are certainly songwriters, and “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” is a testament to that fact. Nostalgically recalling and boldly reinventing pop rock, the album is more than worth the trip to your local record store.

Contact Ross Finney at [email protected].