“I’m not the girl that I was before.”
Jemina Pearl Abegg makes the statement above in the song, “Creepy Crawl,” but it certainly doesn’t have the same connotation that it usually does when coming from a near 21-year-old. Whereas most stories of girls `growing up’ involves leaving behind childish things, finding their way in the world, or being either satisfied with one man or possibly independence, Jemina’s story is decidedly different. This platinum blonde spitfire instead still finds herself in the midst of childish things, admitting she’s still lost in the world (or at least caught between the worlds of adolescence and adulthood), and never satisfied with just one man. In other words, she’s Lolita with a switchblade, and it’s a welcome change from some of today’s current trends.
I don’t understand the sudden resurgence of everything Jane Austen. BBC movies and thousands of knock-off sequel books seem to have the female population in a tizzy over the search for `Mr. Darcy,’ when these self same people often overlook the real gentlemen in their lives. Sure, they want to be swept off their feet, but they want it done by someone who looks like a womanizer. Jemina Pearl is the anti-Jane Austen, and thank god. She’s got the sexual frankness of Liz Phair, the vital energy of Karen O., the bilious venom of P.J. Harvey and the dangerous seductiveness of Debbie Harry. She wouldn’t so much as swoon over Darcy as push him down, have her way with him and head to the bar to hang out with the guys. No, she’s not the girl she was before. Instead, she’s even more incensed.
On this Nashville punk band’s debut, this slightly different foursome (the last Orrall brother was replaced by John Eatherly) cranked out supercharged punk anthems about asthma inhalers, climbing trees and riding bicycles. But they’ve since been exposed to the big bad world. They’ve found out that people, especially in the music industry, are deceitful. They’ve had their shares of pain. All of this is evident on Get Awkward, Be Your Own Pet’s sophomore record that seems to rock even harder than ever before, but with a wary world-view that brings it outside the realm of `cute but snarly,’ and into the realm of `pissed off and I really mean it this time.’ Not only is the sentiment varied in the lyrics, but the sound of the band is tighter, polished and more dexterous than before. Guitarist Jonas Stein leads the charge by balancing crunching chords, rapid alternating notes and twisting shrieks with ease.
Subject matter on Get Awkward ranges from comparisons of their own journey to success to the `Carrie Nations,’ the band that figures prominently in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in the song named after the original incarnation of that band, “The Kelly Affair,” to eating brains in the rollicking, “Zombie Graveyard Party.” But in between, these songs involve love in some form, and not the moon-eyed Jane Austen kind of love. In “Heart Throb,” Jemina tries to keep herself in check when she wishes a guy would stare at her while she’s with her boyfriend, and it goes beyond even that simple innocence. She also distances herself from the `girlie’ way that young females behave in “Bitches Leave.” “You’re a Waste” slows the pace down slightly, in more of a ’50s girl-group style, but with vitriol that would make even the Pipettes blush. The song’s lyrics are post-breakup, claiming her own mistakes, but still placing blame on her ex, saying that he was always a `dick’ to her. Their newfound `maturity’ shows through in the last two tracks, “Creepy Crawl” and “The Beast Within,” the former containing the quotation above, representing Jemina’s trying to figure out where she fits, all through a steady churning beat, while the latter is a perfect bookend to opener “Super Soaked,” both songs polished punk anthems to independence and the spirit of youth.
In a move that has baffled everyone who’s heard about it, Universal Records excised three tracks from the American version of Get Awkward. “Black Hole,” “Becky” and “Blow Yr Mind,” besides being songs that start with the letter `B,’ all appeared on the XL-released UK version, but are absent from Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace-release. The claim was that the songs were `too violent.’ Didn’t it used to be, at least on television, that sex was the taboo element and that violence was approvable? I’d suggest that the two mediums get together, but I fear that both sex AND violence would disappear, in a vast Puritan whitewash. Anyone who has ever listened to Be Your Own Pet realizes that Jemina Pearl isn’t going to knife her former best friend, as is suggested in “Becky.” But no, Universal doesn’t trust the listening public to make the distinction. What would have been a debut-matching fifteen tracks has now been pared down to 12 in less than 30 minutes. (I’d suggest that Universal make it up to fans by letting purchasers access the three songs online for free download, but BYOP is collecting them for an EP release closer to summer.)
Regardless, we do end up with a great follow-up, if not a bit sterilized. Get Awkward lives up to its name thanks to the transitional phase these post-adolescents are going through. It must be even tougher when you’re going through these things while in the public eye. Thankfully, Be Your Own Pet must feel some kind of therapeutic release in both writing and performing these songs of rage, hate, lust and despair. More than anything, I think they’re having fun, and isn’t that the point? Rock and roll is about fun, even if the songs have to do with primitive revenge fantasies. And for anyone who has seen BYOP play a live set, they’d know that 30 minutes is about double what most of their sets run, making this album more than a bargain. Jemina Pearl and guitarist Jonas Stein are due to go down as electrifying a combination as Karen O. and Nick Zinner, and they can’t even legally drink yet.
Video: “The Kelly Affair”