Baffled and Beat
There must be something in the Oxford water that breeds talent. How else could you explain the abundance of good, great, and truly classic music that has emerged from the southeastern English city over the last twenty-plus years? Need examples? Ride, Supergrass, and Radiohead all hail from there. I say it is not an overstatement to also count raucous duo Little Fish among these ranks.
This wouldn't be the first time I've sung their praises; earlier in February I wrote a glowing review of their “Darling Dear” three-song maxi-single for Elevate Difference. Little Fish's particular brand of intense swaggering rock, which has drawn comparisons to fellow garage punk group The Kills, has landed them on the video game “Rock Band” and helped to earn the duo opening spots on tours with Placebo and Courtney Love's latest incarnation of Hole. Now there's Baffled and Beat, Little Fish's highly anticipated full-length debut engineered and produced by Linda Perry, and released on Perry's Custard Records.
Perry's handiwork is as visible on these tracks as fingerprints on a cell phone touch screen. In keeping with her well-established professional reputation as a singer, songwriter, and producer, these twelve songs are the perfect blend of radio-friendly and rock-tastic. That's not to say that Little Fish sound like hapless puppets under the sway of some Svengali. Quite the contrary, singer/guitarist Juju and drummer Nez came to the party prepared, with their own fine-tuned ferocity at full throttle. Juju bellows, growls, and pleads her way through a barrage of breathless sweaty angst, while Nez pounds the ever-loving daylights out of his drum kit. Perry just happened to come along and give it all a little spit shine.
Sometimes, a band can crank out a smattering of quality tunes to attract the attention of radio and record folks, but are then incapable of sustaining said quality for a whole record. It would seem as though they had only those singles in them, and that was it. Unfortunately, many tantalized listeners don't figure this out until they dive in for more, only to come up thoroughly disappointed. Happily, that's not the case with Little Fish.
The three songs from the “Darling Dear” MP3 single—“Darling Dear,” “Sweat & Shiver,” and “Whiplash”—each find their passion and intensity put to good use within the overall context of a full-length release, and most of the album's other nine tracks are just as stellar. Stand-out songs include wailing banshee love song "Am I Crazy?," night-on-the-town rocker "Bang Bang," and proletariat anthem "Hallelujah," as well as the astoundingly sexy, self-destructive swagger of "Die Young."
Sadly, not every song can be a winner. "Luck's Run Out" practically implodes under the weight of its own tragicomic pathos. The lyrics "My records are old/My cat’s dead/I’m bored of the radio/I’m waiting for promises/Of something that never came/Don’t push me now/I am the life of the party" sound as though they were lifted straight out of some mournful "tear in my beer" country ballad. There's also the final song, "Sorry State," which features the following chorus: "Why does misery like company?/You’re such a sorry state/Throw your anchor out at me." Downright maudlin, it's an anti-climactic note on which to end an otherwise outstanding debut.