Faced with the prospect of going solo after her excellent (and underrated) band Be Your Own Pet broke up, Jemina Pearl is left with an essential question of the long-term punk career: Is it possible to still have the same intensity a few years into your career as you did when you were puerile ass-kicker? For Pearl, the answer is simple: Kind of.
First things first: Break It Up, Pearl’s first album after the break-up of Be Your Own Pet, sounds a hell of a lot like a Be Your Own Pet record. A lot of that has to do with Pearl, whose banshee act did as much to make Be Your Own Pet’s songs connect with listeners as did the lyrical guitar leads of Jonas Stein or the post-Animal drumming of John Eatherly (who joins Pearl on guitar here). But it also sounds a hell of a lot like a normal pop-punk record, as in the pop-punk that is used to move purple hair dye, studded belts and fishnet shirts at alternative-lifestyle stores across America.
Which isn’t necessarily surprising, since Be Your Own Pet were always a gimmick away from being the potential kings of the Warped Tour set (if only, like Paramore, they had come from an evangelical background, then they could have gone places, baby). It’s just that on too much of Break It Up, Pearl ends up sounding like an uninterested version of her old self, trading the semi-descriptive lyrics depicting bloody murders (See: “Becky,” “Bog”) for vague, tween-friendly poetry about being bad (“Looking for Trouble,” “No Good”), about how a water park blows (“Nashville Shores”) and about striking out at haters (“Selfish Heart”). They wouldn’t sound out of place coming from some uncreated Hannah Montana arch-villain.
But when Pearl is on, she still screams circles around any woman flying a pop-punk banner these days. She rushes to keep up with the guitar on the flying “Undesirable,” just like she did with Stein in the old days. She harmonizes with Iggy Pop on “I Hate People,” the most bubblegum song here, and snarls with tender intensity on raucous opener “Heartbeats” and the hazy “Retrograde.” The high points of Break It Up scratch the itch the in a way only a Be Your Own Pet album could, which is more or less the best compliment you could pay Break It Up.