SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

VERUCA SALT – American Thighs (1994)

SEPTEMBER 27TH, 1994, VERUCA SALT released their debut album, American Thighs, through Geffen Records/Minty Fresh Records. 1994 was a year of outstanding alternative rock album releases. Veruca Salt’s debut, American Thighs, confidently stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the competition. A thrilling, ecstatic assault on the scenes, heavy, melodic, dark and bright all at once. Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Steve Lack, and Jim Shapiro created one of the great debuts of the ’90s.

Named after Veruca Salt, the spoiled rotten rich girl from the 1964 children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Veruca Salt was formed in Chicago in 1992 by Louise Post and Nina Gordon. Post recalls the first time she and Gordon sang together. “The sky was the limit. I could feel that as soon as I heard our voices. It was like being skyrocketed into space.”

With Gordon’s brother, Jim Shapiro, joining on drums and Steve Lack on bass, Veruca Salt went from a pipe dream to a living, breathing, hard-rocking entity. “We were entrenched in the Chicago music scene. But it didn’t start that way,” says Post. “I was in a theatre company and waiting tables at a jazz bar. Nina worked at the Art Institute. My friends didn’t go to shows. I remember scalping a ticket to Jane’s Addiction and going alone. I was in the pit thinking I might die tonight, and it would be okay because I was in heaven.”

The band had performed a handful of shows when Jim Powers of Minty Fresh Records asked them to sign to the independent label. The band released the single “Seether”/”All Hail Me” on Minty Fresh Records in 1994. The song was such a success on college and alternative radio stations they accompanied Hole on a tour before recording the album with producer Brad Wood. Minty Fresh Records released American Thighs with Geffen Records, quickly re-releasing it to a broader market.

“Seether” was written by Nina Gordon; its fuzzy, upbeat bounce reveals the impolite girl, the bad daughter, the uncivilized woman who emerges when her defences are broken down. “I can’t see her till I’m foaming at the mouth,” Gordon and Post warn in unison. “Seether” kept opening doors for Veruca Salt; the song’s universal appeal drove them forward. When legendary British Radio 1 DJ John Peel named it in his top three songs of 1994, the band made their way to the UK.

In the Nineties, acclaim in Britain was the fastest means of launching a band back in America. “The UK always gives a band a run for its money,” adds Post. “You’re either the British darling or you’re not. You’re still spat upon and mocked even if you are the darling. We were given a lot of press. We were also jeered at. We weren’t taken seriously at first. We had to prove our worth. There was one early headline: Dig the New Breeders. In the British press, the Breeders thing was inescapable. We would bristle at that.”

In the mid-’90s, Spin Magazine asked the Breeders frontwoman Kim Deal if she thought Veruca Salt ripped off her band; she replied, “No, I don’t think so, although I’ve heard people sing the chorus to “Seether” and change the words to “sounds like the Breeders.” It’s because they’re two girls with dark hair. Their guitars are mixed completely differently, and their vocals are higher up. But I could never not like Veruca Salt because I read an interview with them where they said they went to the Cabaret Metro in Chicago to see our show and that it was a “profound and enlightening experience” or something, and this was before they started the band. They said they looked at each other, equally beaming, and “the room was filled with love.” They were also asked if they hated being compared to the Breeders and said, “Oh no, we just hope they don’t hate us.” So I want to say right now, “No, we don’t hate you, girls.”

The snowballing success of Veruca Salt wasn’t all pretty; as the band garnered more and more fans, the music press sharpened their knives, “After we switched over to Geffen and started playing bigger venues and were on MTV all the time, there was a pushback. There was a feeling of, ‘Who are they…why did they sell out so fast?’ In our mind, we had done nothing of the kind,” says Gordon. “Selling out is when you do something you don’t believe in. There were a few nasty articles written. It was hurtful; I’m not going to lie. We were in our twenties. You care what other people think. Nobody likes to read anything nasty about themselves. It didn’t feel good.”

American Thighs is a product of its time. It’s aggressive fuzz and blissed-out beauty sounds propulsive, grungy, and trippy. Gordon and Post’s harmonies are soaring and tight, contrasting the wickedly heavy passages as beautifully as the more reflective sections. Producer Brad Wood perfectly captured the enormous, woozy guitar tones and pummelling rhythm section while continually giving the gorgeous vocal melodies the attention they deserve.

Brad Wood recalled the process of working on American Thighs, “I was learning how to make records that sounded like they should be on the radio. There’s a difference between making a Shrimp Boat [Wood’s previous art-rock band] record and having that sound cool and working on a Veruca Salt record and having it compete with, like, Metallica [Laughs.] on the radio.”

Veruca Salt entered the studio for the first time to begin work on what would become American Thighs on January 1st, 1994—the day after playing a New Year’s Eve show at the Metro with Liz Phair and Hum. Nina Gordon recalled the relaxed air surrounding the recording sessions, “For all of us, it was our first experience in the studio. It was a kind of a casual pace. You know, not ridiculously casual because we didn’t have unlimited funds, but I remember hanging out, ordering food, and lying around. It was just fun, and there was zero stress, zero pressure—everything was gravy because we couldn’t believe we were even in the studio, you know?”

Given that the band had only existed for two years, the songs they brought to those recording sessions bristly with confidence and surety. The album is packed full of memorable melodies, riffs and hooks. There is no filler among the album’s thirteen tracks (twelve if you had the cassette version).

Right from the opening guitar and hazy harmonies of “Get Back”, we’re treated to the essence of Veruca Salt. The band’s effortless use of dynamics and melody is warm, inviting, foreboding and visceral. The lines “The more you want it, the less you’re gonna get back” etch themselves on your subconscious as shards of fuzzy guitar cascade around like sparks from a firework.

“All Hail Me” has a wickedly heavy grinding riff. Nina Gordon’s high-pitched wails sound distant and disembodied, floating through the heady mix of thick, syrupy guitars and Louise Post’s raucous vocal.

“Seether” deserves all the plaudits, and attention is received—instantly catchy, the song is imbued with an effortless cool. The dynamics are to die for at turns dark and laced with fidgety anxiety while also exploding with a joyous rage, “Seether” still sounds fresh and vital.

“Spiderman 79” is a mid-paced fuzzy psychedelic kaleidoscope; the band perfectly plays and executes its gorgeous, spiralling feel. When the song hits the middle eight, the impassioned vocals explode with intent. This is jaw-droppingly vivid and exciting songwriting.

The quirky bounce of “Forsythia” exudes fuck-you attitude. Louise Post rips a Robbie Krieger-esque guitar solo filled with sustained passion and conviction. “Wolf” sounds like a mid-’90s dream sequence. Crushing, glacial guitars and gossamer thin, quiet passages glide in a sea of nebulous beauty.

“Celebrate You” freewheels with a barely contained dark edge, “We’re quiet as two mannequins, Feasting on silences. We wait for Christmas to begin, To see the cracking faces. I tip my glass and toast to you. The blood spills on the carpet At your celebration.” “Fly” is a divinely sad, minor-chord ballad sung with apt dejection by Louise Post over the sombre dirge swirling below her vocal.

We’re deep into the album’s tracklisting, and the enormous hooks show no sign of abating “Number One Blind” crushes with power-pop sensibilities set to a compelling, loud/quiet dynamic. “Victrola” rocks hard; the falsetto vocals and avalanche of guitars threaten to careen off the rails at any moment. Again, the guitar solo is of particular note.

“Twinstar’s” slow burn tumbles and glissades through a fog of beautifully dense guitars and gorgeously languorous vocals. “25” opens with shards of noisy guitar before descending into a reflective verse of clean strums and tapping cymbals. Nina Gordon sounds emphatically resigned to being under the will of another, “I maintain, I am not in pain. How I try not to place the blame. I came late to an early game. You can bend me, shape me anyway.” Vaguely resembling fellow Chicago band the Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish era, “25” excels in its exaggerated dynamics and scorched earth outro solo.

“Sleeping Where I Want” closes the album in a shoegaze haze. Its clean electric guitars are washed in delay; the vocals are dreamlike and breathy, set just under the waves of atmosphere. It’s a fitting ambient closer to a stunning collection of songs.

Veruca Salt shifted from childlike innocence to guiltless brutality throughout American Thighs. Their gift for unforgettable melodies and crushing riffs packed a potent punch. The album was eventually certified gold, selling over half a million copies in the US alone. It’s a stunning album that holds up today and is one of the best of the era.

Essential…”