L7 – Bricks Are Heavy (1992)

April 14th, 1992, L7 released their third studio album Bricks Are Heavy through Slash Records. The album was produced by the band and Butch Vig.

While L7 embodied the live hard/play hard approach of a lot of bands that thrived during the grunge/punk/alt-rock scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s, they survived, pretty much intact. Though there was a 13-year break between 2001 and L7’s reformation in 2014, Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas have – aside from a few line-up changes – very much gone the distance.

Bricks Are Heavy is a different beast to L7’s self-titled debut and the follow up Smell The Magic (released on Sub Pop Records) Where those albums are thrilling slash and burn punk workouts, Bricks Are Heavy feels relatively polished and it’s all the more powerful for it.

Butch Vig’s magic touch on this album is magnificent. L7 was never a one trick pony. Beneath the raw, pummelling riffs and buckets of attitude lay more hooks than a fishing tackle box. Vig simply balanced the two sides of L7’s formidable approach. Monumental attitude mixed with killer hooks.

On Bricks Are Heavy, L7 sharpened their song-writing skills considerably. Nowhere is this more evident than on the band’s smash-hit Pretend We’re Dead. As the first single from the album, it hit the mainstream charts, giving the release of the album considerable leverage and opening the door to a wave of new fans who hadn’t yet caught on to the brilliance of L7.

Even if the band weren’t totally comfortable with their new found mainstream celebrity, it was welcome. Donita Sparks remarked “Of course we wanted a hit, but when you get a hit, if you’re from the underground, you get almost embarrassed about your hit,” she told Spin in 2012. “It’s so fucked up. All of a sudden, it starts to separate you from the scene that you came from.”

Butch Vig also recognised Sparks’ vocal prowess. The Chicago-born singer could do everything from low-octave, deep-set melodic drawls to hoary snarls and punchy punk-style one-liners that hit like a kick to the eardrums. Dee Plakas and Jennifer Finch are a pummelling rhythm section. Dee’s drumming is often overlooked in the sea of great drummers plying their trade in the 90’s. But like an alt-rock Ringo Starr, her playing is essential to L7’s sound, providing not only power and a rock solid base, her fills and beats are hook laden and catchier than the common cold.

Mosh-pit anthem “Everglade” (sung by bassist Jennifer Finch) will simply knock you on your ass. One of those perfect two note riffs that seem impossible to write for most bands. It oozes cool, and is propelled by a powerful vocal delivery from the always amazing Jennifer Finch.

The sardonic “Diet Pill” tackles female compulsions with clever irony, and even when they let their mega-riffing take over on such full-throttle stomps as “Wargasm,” “Mr. Integrity,” and “Shitlist,” L7 still manage to imbue their lyrics with humour and substance.

The guitar playing of Suzi Gardner and Donita Sparks is heavy, sludgy and aggressive but always quirky, memorable and filled with an infectious sense of urgency. Bricks Are Heavy is a classic album that is worthy of all the hype its gotten in the wake of the Alternative Rock explosion of the early 1990s. It still sounds exciting and absolutely eviscerates most bands output from the period in terms of its energy and conviction.

And that’s the beauty of L7’s Bricks Are Heavy, combining social commentary of the time with an angry, emotional tone. It’s heavy, cynical, and full of the kind of dense riffage that grunge brought to the forefront in the early 1990s.

Above all, it showed that not only can women take their talents to the stage, but they can make some of the finest music out there.