Having been conceived of and curated by Chicks On Speed, Girl Monster naturally comes bolstered by high fashion and high-falutin’ theory. The newsprint-style liner notes go someway to explaining the curatorial approach: girl monsters, write Pil & Gallia Kollective, are the â€œabject doubleâ€ of fembots. Fembots are the mechanised creation of patriarchal, consumer culture, while girl monsters are their excess, breaking out from beneath and between the fembots’ smooth, over-determined surfaces.
Hmmmm. And I thought that binary oppositions were one critical tool that feminists had rightly consigned to history’ dustbin?
The problem (although I hesitate to use that word) with this laudably ambitious project is that the music of Girl Monster doesn’ sound monstrous at all – huge in either anger or ecstasy, or both. It sounds bored. Of course, drawing generalisations about an anthology that’s 3 discs and 3.5 hours long is a little futile, but somewhat predictably, genre representation leans heavily towards the sarcastically desiccated electro-clash favoured by Chicks On Speed themselves.
Now, I don’ want to get essentialist about sound. The idea that there are inherently “masculine’ and “feminine’ forms of music is a massively flawed one. Inevitably, women end up being characterised as the oceanic, the womb-warm, the thumb-suckingly comforting and the gentle. Maybe it’s in reaction to this that Girl Monster is filled with lean, borderline-anoxeric beats and vocals that never crack a smile. But it’s all so dry. It’s all so poised. It never lets itself go.
BjÃ¶rk turns up halfway through Disc 2 and it’s a bloody relief (pun intended). “Storm’, taken from her recent soundtrack work for partner Matthew Barney’ Drawing Restraint 9, is a shifting, howling prism of deepest and most desperate blue. It only serves to underline what this anthology is sorely lacking: any real exploration of the radical and innovative potential of the female voice. If the girl monster is a way of â€œletting looseâ€ repression, as the liner notes claim, and celebrating all those orifices and bodily emanations, then surely the voice is a rich territory from which to begin the work of patriarchy’ unstitching? So why does almost everybody here sound so sewn in, so uptight, so disembodied?
Maybe I’m coming at this the wrong way. I’m really not sure. The inclusion of transgender artists such as Katastrophe is to be applauded for radically upsetting any preconceived notions of just what a female voice or body might be. And The Slits sound typically wonderful on a live run-through of “Typical Girls’, tripping over their words, clearing their throats, hiccuping up and down the scale. But these moments of pleasure are few. After three discs the voices sound homogenous, like a factory line: nasal and sneering and almost all white. After three discs I’m craving Missy Elliot or BeyoncÃ©, or Sharon Jones or Courtney Love, or Bessie Smith or Beth Ditto, or Elizabeth Cotton or Elizabeth Fraser – anyone who brings some joyous, life-affirming pleasure to the act of filling her lungs and letting rip.
“I’m your monster/I’m not like you’ hollered Corin Tucker more than ten years ago, on the title track to Sleater-Kinney’ Call The Doctor, and she sounded as if she meant it; “I’m your monster/I’m just like you’. I’m glad that Girl Monster exists. But I want more.