Natural Ingredients by Dimitri Ehrlich
If you’re wondering whether the songs on Luscious Jackson’s full-length debut, Natural Ingredients, are alternative hip hop or punk masquerading as dance music or women with samplers running with wolves, think of Debbie Harry, the ultimate female role model from the early-’80s Manhattan punk/DJ/new wave scene. Recall Blondie’s "Rapture” and then listen to the disco keyboard on LJ’s sinister get-on-the-dance-floor incantation "Here.” Or "City Song,” where lead vocalist Gabby Glaser not-quite-rappingly raps about accosting a bike messenger and asking him to talk about himself. Natural Ingredients proves there’s still a friction and a shiver when cultures collide-even after all these years of putting genres in a blender.
Luscious Jackson’s lyrics mine everyday city life for texture and grit. Like Manhattan, the quartet’s sound is relentless, confusing, and whispers hlaf-thoughts from a polyglot of rhythmic noise. Kate Schellenbach may not be the greatest drummer on earth, but she knows how to get into a groove and get lost in it (and since she’s the only woman in the world who can say she was once a Beastie Boy, it’s no coincidence Luscious Jackson were the first signing on the Beasties’ Grand Royal label). "Deep Shag” has a loose, sloppy shuffle and a bass line that might have wondered off a Crosby, Stills & Nash record. The lyrics investigate vulnerability’s relationship to love, but the music is the opposite: an insistent strut that frays into a Stones-y mess.
With "Angel,” LJ musically confess their jangly new wave tendencies. The bongos and wah-wah guitar evoke "Life During Wartime"-era Talking Heads. Tom Tom Club would be more at home with these riffs than Isaac Hayes, you think, but then "Strongman” begins and suddenly you realize, yes, Pam Grier could get into this. It’s a feminist exploitation of blaxploitation, leading nicely into "Energy Sucker,” which features the riposte "I’m a goddess, not your mother.” Even Debbie Harry never thought of that.
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