Veruca Salt broke into the mainstream with American Thighs in 1994. While the grunge/new rock/alternative rock revolution of the early ‘90s was winding down by that point (we were only a year away from the superstardom of bands like No Doubt), “Seether” still managed to garner enough radio play to allow Veruca Salt to at least stake a claim to being worthy late gen-x background music (much like Stone Temple Pilots were). Eight Arms to Hold You (1997) gave us “Volcano Girls,” and the last major musical reference point for the band named Veruca Salt. Nina Gordon would go solo (after a rock n’ roll cliched feud with fellow Veruca Salt guitarist/vocalist Louise Post), to mixed critical and commercial success and Veruca Salt would continue on with Post as the only original member, also to mixed critical and commercial success. What a difference 20 years, cooler heads (Gordon and Post are reconciled) and the reformation of the original lineup can do for a band. With Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt evolves from quality late gen-x background music to one of the few bands left that legitimately represent what was, and still is, great about the sound of the bands that dominated the music world of the ‘90s.
While reviews were generally positive for American Thighs, it didn’t spawn many singles and didn’t really stick in the collective consciousness of the generation that was either just graduating college or deep in the throes of their middle-college years. The riffs were pretty basic alt/grunge riffs and Veruca Salt’s true appeal was the amalgamation of Gordon and Post’s voices that were both snotty sorority sex-kitten-snark and riot-grrl-yawp at once. You wanted to either date them or dive out of their way, often at the same time.
Ghost Notes resurrects the same feelings in the listener when Gordon and Post harmonize for the first time on the album. The appeal now though is much more than the vocal-stylings. Maybe it’s just that music now is homogenized that a guitar riff that sounds as if it was first strummed in a garage with the same intensity it was strummed in the studio is once again a powerful thing on many musical levels. The album’s excellent opening track “The Gospel According to Saint Me” toys with the snark that made “Seether” so appealing. “It’s gonna get loud/It’s gonna get heavy” announce the girls, and quite un-ironically the heaviness sets in with the very next track “Black and Blonde.” A thick, meaty, droning riff dominates the song as Gordon and Post sing about getting left “black and blonde/ticking like a bomb.”
The smart look into the female psyche that was always a strong undercurrent in Veruca Salt’s music is more intelligent, even if slightly more oblique (which really is synonymous with intelligent when assessing the artistic integrity of works like Ghost Notes) and metaphorically poetic. “Prince of Wales,” the album’s standout track, is the best view into a woman’s psyche as she remembers what could be her first sexual experience, or rape, or both. It’s a powerfully haunting song, and frankly on an artistic level that I never associated with Veruca Salt before. Perhaps a fresh listen to American Thighs is in order.
“Empty Bottle,” another standout track, makes the best use of the grunge quiet/loud dynamic since Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. It’s also the song on the album that has the most powerful transcendent sonic moments. There’s tinges of Smashing Pumpkins-like psychedelica here; it’s almost as if they dropped a little bit of a homage to Billy Corgan. It’s completely natural, and admirable, since Goron and Corgan are not only contemporaries, they’re both products of the ‘90s’ Chicago music scene which went hand in hand with Seattle’s (and often got lumped together with).
Veruca Salt, with Ghost Notes, establish themselves as one of the great band of the ‘90s still capable of creating not only great rock, but great intelligent rock as well. Thank God, for not only Veruca Salt, but for us, (as the band stated on their Facebook page), that “hatchets buried, axes exhumed” is their current motto. Not only is the time right for this band and album, it’s necessary.