Album Review: Girls – Album
It seems that Girls frontman Christopher Owens has had a bloody hard life – raised in the Children of God cult, he spent most of his youth travelling with his mother, whom the cult forced to prostitute herself while Owens waited in hotel lobbies. He finally escaped, and fled to Texas, where he became addicted to prescription drugs, under the influence of which the bulk of ‘Album’ was created – never mind graduating from the school of hard knocks, Owens practically runs the place.
So it’s odd that, on first listen, ‘Album’ seems to be a thing of great, sunshine-laden beauty – it’s brand of hazy, feedback-laden surf pop seems more the product of an idyllic childhood spent on a beach than in a grim, incestuous sect; Owens has the kind of Peter Pan, wide-eyed sense of wonderment shared by artists like Conor Oberst and Marc Bolan, and it’s almost inconceivable to imagine him anything other than in a state of face-aching, sepia-toned happiness – he may drawl ‘You’ve been a bitch, I’ve been an ass’ on the fantastic ‘Laura’, but Owens seems incapable of anything other than slightly-goofy amiableness.
However, after a couple of listens, ‘Album’s shiny, happy-go-lucky gilt wears thin, revealing a surging undertow of pain – Owen’s cries of ‘I’m fucked in the head’ on ‘Lust For Life’ begin to sound distinctly unhinged, and his confession on ‘Lauren Marie’ of ‘I don’t know where I’m going/ But I’m headed somewhere/ And it’s not my time to die…’ is heartbreaking. Owens voice too grows more poignant on repeat listens – strip back the surface comparisons of Elvis Costello at his most joyful, and Owen’s raspy, ragged quaver harks back to the broken-man, bluesy tatter of Missisppi John Hurt and Woody Guthrie.
‘Album’ is a very rare thing – it’s part heady, Beach Boys romanticism, part disillusioned confessional, and all squeezed into narrow constraints of the indie-pop genre. And with Owens swearing off the pills that gave ‘Album’ it’s teetering, schizophrenic wooziness, who knows what kind of sharp-focus masterpiece Girls will come up with next time?