Didn’t we all see this coming? Like the inevitable fall of NBC (I’m looking in your direction, Heroes and Jay Leno), the death of auto-tune and the return of comedy, like a phoenix from the ashes of reality shows, there was no one who didn’t see this coming. No, one did not need magical prognosticating powers to have seen the oncoming pop debut from Jemina Pearl. As the brash and brassy frontwoman for teenage punk combo, Be Your Own Pet, Pearl was a fledgling star, albeit a spit-hocking, snot-flinging, spandex wearing star. It was only a matter of time before the band broke up and the towheaded frontwoman struck out on her own.
Break It Up, a title that recalls punk’s heyday, namely the Damned, could also be a reference to her former band and reveling in her newfound independence. And while the name may slyly reference a band with Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible, the content is quite different. While punk has always been referred to as pop at high speeds, Pearl chooses with her debut to nearly leave all traces of punk at the door in favor of sixties girl-group sunshine. While many traditionalist fans of BYOP might turn up their noses, the album that everyone predicted is full of charm, hooks and charisma.
After countless comparisons to Karen O. and Debbie Harry, Jemina Pearl sounds more now like an unholy hybrid of Joan Jett and Belinda Carlisle, and it sounds pretty damn good. After the opening track, “Heartbeats,” which is probably the closest track to BYOP, acting as a nice bridge between projects, Pearl shifts gears immediately into pure pop territory with “After Hours,” a song with hooks as infectious as H1N1. Of course, that song is only surpassed by the seductive disco of “Ecstatic Appeal” and the sassy pop of “Band on the Run.” While Pearl sings of flipping the bird and burning all her bridges, the venom-spitting ire of her former gig is all but gone. There’s still fire there, it’s simply tempered, polished and focused, almost as if Pearl’s anger was aimed at everything before, while now she knows exactly what she wants and what she doesn’t need anymore.
The track that keeps making the rounds, for obvious reasons, is Pearl’s duet with Iggy Pop, “I Hate People.” Now, I love Iggy, but this really sounds like a precocious little girl singing near the Christmas tree with her warbling grandfather. It’s not a bad song, it’s just that the iconic nature of Iggy is far greater than the product presented here. When Iggy croons about hating people, he sounds more like the spiteful old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. This is less Sid & Nancy than it is Harold & Maude in gender reversal. And introducing, Iggy Pop as Humbert Humbert. Yikes. Ironically, “Retrograde” sounds more like an Iggy track than “I Hate People.” People are flocking to the duet for the novelty of the pairing, but the truth is, there are far better songs on the album.
“Nashville Shores” is one of those songs, a heartfelt and harmonic ode to her hometown. “Shores” is about as pop as this album gets, and it works incredibly well. I am reminded of the sloppy but sweet sounds of that dog, simple on the surface, like a junior high rock band, but revealing layers with repeated listens. I suppose this is why I wasn’t surprised in the slightest to find that Anna Waronker, the frontwoman for that dog, contributed to the album, though oddly not to this song. “D is For Danger,” with label head Thurston Moore on guitar and backup vocals, nearly mimics girl group classics such as “Leader of the Pack” with the vocal breakdown in the bridge. Unfortunately, it’s another of the low points of the album, though that is rectified by the high-energy one-two-three combo of “Selfish Heart,” “Undesirable” and “So Sick.” It is through these tracks that Pearl is at her screechy best, singing with passion and fire, if not with perfect precision.
The zombie apocalypse, the great robot uprising, the eventual collapse of California into the sea: these are all nearly unavoidable future events. We see them coming, just as we easily saw the inevitable debut album from Jemina Pearl. But, as Pearl shows up in this reintroduction, inevitabilities need not always be bad things. Break It Up is a pleasant surprise, a confident first solo step, and a showcase of more promise to come.
that dog- that dog
The Go-Go’s- Beauty and the Beat