A rollicking blend of ‘70s rock, disco, pop and soul.
The sixth full-length album by Meg Remy, a.k.a. U.S. Girls, is a rollicking blend of ‘70s rock, disco, pop and soul. If you imagine Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, ABBA, The Roches and post-Eno Roxy Music rolled into one, you have some sense of what it sounds like. Anchored in Remy’s extraordinary, shape-shifting vocals, the music of U.S. Girls indulges freely in squealing saxophones, swirling synths, guitar solos and analog and digital grooves.
Tracks such as “Rage of Plastics” show off the eclecticism this project brings—it is a song one could imagine originating from many decades at once. On the other hand, such tracks as “M.A.H.” are more openly retro but equally effective in presenting a confident and compelling musical personality. On “Rosebud,” with its traces of Kate Bush updated for millennials, Remy bridges musical generations with a conversation between artistic eras.
On the latter half of the album, “Incidental Boogie,” reminiscent of “Fame”-era Bowie, may overreach musically, but Remy makes up for it with the hypnotic stomp of “L-Over,” with its falsetto vocals and memorable lyrics: “Can you imagine trying to get/ Some satisfaction out of a stone?” “Pearly Gates” is a marriage of trip-hop and R & B—one can imagine Destiny’s Child covering it, time-travel permitting. “Poem” is catchy enough, but arguably overly reminiscent of The Knife, and the extended jam “Time,” too, has a vibe reminiscent of Patti Smith if she fronted the Talking Heads.
This is not to say that the music is derivative (it isn’t), only that the ground it covers is effective because of one’s existing associations, almost as though In a Poem Unlimited were a kind of concept album about confronting a wide swath of influences and trying to overcome them.
Ultimately, the lyrics crystallize the uniqueness of Remy’s musical artistry, though they are often hard to make out. “Rage of Plastics,” in particular, brilliantly combines personal— “I know it’s a blight to the brightest how our designs unseam/ Like the backside of some skirt in some old man’s dream—and allegorical registers— “Was it the river on fire that made us what we became?/ What is the cup that we drank from, or what it contained?” Throughout, experiences of sexuality, intimacy, identity and belonging are brought to life in a way that is always personal and rooted and yet also often take on a fabulist, timeless quality—“In a poem unlimited we stay/ And on a lawless night, lawless night, we wait/ Holding our breath, we wait.”
U.S. Girls proves Remy’s versatility, but one might wish to see the group live before delivering a final judgment on this batch of songs. The execution is stellar, but the “crowded” feel of some of the songs can work to the detriment of Remy’s most extraordinary quality—her writing. But with an album that sounds this good, this reviewer finds himself in the strange position of hoping to be proven wrong, and expecting he might be.