July 12th, 1994, L7 released their fourth album, Hungry For Stink, through Slash Records. Coming hot on the heels of 1992’s breakthrough album Bricks Are Heavy, L7 did not attempt to tone down their approach to maximise that album’s success. Hungry For Stink is a rip-roaring, violent, messy, raw, joyous album. The noise it makes is the sound of stereotypes shattering. L7 rocked as harder than most bands plying their trade in the ’90s, gender be damned.
Bricks Are Heavy had propelled the band to the forefront of the burgeon alternative rock scene of the early ’90s. L7 set trends, but they didn’t follow them. 1992’s Bricks Are Heavy was the band’s major label debut, produced by 90’s alt-rock svengali Butch Vig. New fans coming to the band through the success of Bricks Are Heavy also had an impeccable back catalogue to trawl through. 1990’s Smell The Magic (Sub Pop Records) and 1988’s debut L7 (Epitaph Records) captured L7 in riotous form. Everything aligned for the band, not by design; it’s just how it was. But like Smell The Magic before it, Bricks Are Heavy had one undeniable thing going for it over and above everything else. The songs!
Underneath the blistering, full frontal attack, the speaker shredding guitar tones, the pummelling drums, the thundering bass, and the lacerating vocal delivery lay a real sophistication. L7 can craft a great song with killer hooks and memorable lyrics. Both Smell The Magic and Bricks Are Heavy had these attributes in spades. Entering the studio in late 1993 to record the follow-up to their breakthrough album, L7 picked producer GGGarth (Garth Richardson) to help them bring the album to fruition.
Before working with L7, GGGarth had steadily climbed the ladder as a “go-to” producer for many alternative rock bands like Rage Against The Machine and Melvins. From a young age, Garth was steeped in music, his father was Jack Richardson, producer of classic albums by Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, Badfinger and Poco. His natural style of production, which focused on getting the unhindered sound of the band while upping the dynamics and sonic punch of every performance, sat perfectly with the prevailing trends of the early ’90s.
L7 brought a stellar batch of songs to the table for their part. The album kicks off with the first single, “Andres.” Sung by guitarist Suzi Gardner. It’s a tight ripper with scuzzy guitars, powerhouse drums and ominous bass. The song is an apology to a friend of the band, Andres, who was hurt by someone they introduced him to. “Baggage” is a mid-paced stomp; Donita Sparks’ vocal is intense and passionate. The chorus slows to a crawl, with guitars, bass and drums channelling some filthy doom metal by way of Black Flag as Donita screams, “Now I’ve Got Baggage.”
“Can I Run” is a chugging monster filled with savage guitars and vocal hooks. Donita delivers a harrowing vocal and lyric about fear, “Are these sensible shoes on my feet,/I wear my shades so our eyes don’t meet/I’m scared every fuckin’ day/I wear my headphones so I can’t hear what you say…” Musically, the song is rife with tension and minimal release. It’s the soundtrack to a bad situation.
“Switch to paranoid from having fun,
Will he use his hands, knife, or a gun,
Knuckles are white, wrapped around my mace,
Comes from living in a terrorist state..”
Donita Sparks said of the song in 1995, “Can I Run” is a song I wrote because, as usual, I had to walk my dog at a very late hour, down my street, in Los Angeles, and I was in my pyjamas, and I had to put on gym shoes and my rape whistle and put my hair under a baseball cap. And you know, basically try to look like a man. It’s a song about fear of being raped or attacked.”
“The Bomb” is a full-throttle punk beast and one of the finest L7 deep cuts. Sung by bassist Jennifer Finch in a caustic wail, she laments the plastic pop culture of the mid-’90s: “Plastic people with their plastic lives/Plastic lips tell plastic lies/Plastic drivers in plastic cars/
Plastic food from plastic jars..” Speaking of jars, “Questioning My Sanity” is an L7 classic, a compelling argument for the value of coming to terms with a desperate situation and rising above. Donita Sparks sneers, “I’m saving my piss in a jar/This depression has gone too far/I’m lying here in bed/Am I alive or am I dead..”
“Stuck Here Again” changes the pace, opening with a catchy rotary speaker guitar hook; its bouncy feel belies its dark lyrics. “Fuel My Fire” channels the Ramones. “Freak Magnet” is a molten hot, metallic riff fest and closer “Talk Box” shows elements of shoegaze.
There’s so much here to admire for rock fans of all persuasions; when considering the band’s broad appeal, Donita Sparks said: “I think that L7 probably crossed genre appreciation more than some of the other female acts of the time. We were accepted into the metal world, we were accepted into the punk world, we were accepted into the art world. In terms of our basic origins, Suzi and I are art punks and Jennifer’s an art punk. We came from the art-punk scene in L.A…”
And it’s punk, in both sound and spirit, that’s the common denominator for the majority of 90s Alternative Rock. L7 was steeped in it from the get-go. “Hungry For Stink” continued the band’s single-minded assault on the cultural “norms.” L7 flipped the script on an unsuspecting public and, in doing so, garnered a devout fanbase. All Music’s Neil Z Yeung noted, “Stink’s overall mélange drew upon the sleaziest corners of everything from Nirvana and Hole to Nick Cave and White Zombie. While not as crisp and catchy as Bricks Are Heavy, Hungry for Stink merits attention and appreciation for being the end of a certain era for the band..”