“The Other Girls” opens the Vivian Girls’ third album Share the Joy with a familiar burst of energy. The jab recalls the group’s brisk and punchy style to date. Then abruptly the tempo moderates and the group leisurely makes its way through a meandering guitar solo and an endless cycle of choruses. After this six-minute salvo the band makes clear its new head-space.
The Vivian Girls have made the inevitable progression of most two-minutes-and-the-truth rawk bands towards long-form rock. The move is predictable. Few bands outside of the Ramones and the Minutemen can make an entire career out of jamming econo. After exploring this concept thoroughly on its first two albums, the Vivian Girls have had the additional handicap of cycling through three drummers in nearly as many years. Yet the band’s core of Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman have maintained the group’s core aesthetic in a coherent manner. And with new drummer Fiona Campbell, the band embraces the title Share the Joy as it seemingly rediscovers and explores classic songwriting styles.
Much of the album feels like an ode to ‘90s lo-fi or a ‘90s-lo-fi ode to ‘60s pop. The sparse arrangement and light echo of “I Heard You Say” could snuggle up nicely with K Records’ finest. “Dance (If You Wanna)” cross-pollinates oldies with that dog. vocal twists. Fans of the group’s past albums will find hints of the band baring its teeth, such as on the growling verses of “Sixteen Ways” and booming floor tom work on “Vanishing of Time.” However, on this album the band commits more energy towards writing multiple parts to songs than blazing its way through neat riffs.
The overall result is pleasant yet hardly exceptional. The giddy-up pulse and vocal counterpoints of “Trying to Pretend” are fine, but hardly knockout material. The band shines on occasion, such as on the millennial generation take on the Shangri-Las “Take It As It Comes.” The song would make Shadow Morton, the producer of the legendary girl group, blush with its spoken intro warning against excessive boy-swooning. Lines like “You’ll never get a guy if your heart always tells you what to do” may play up the roll-up-yr-sleeves image a bit too much, but the song is a pitch perfect construction of a pop cautionary tale.
The other high note is the appropriately-titled “Light In Your Eyes.” Where “The Other Girls” struggles to find a base, the album-closer song is a better example of the group’s ability to stretch and explore an idea. Here, credit goes to Campbell for patiently building the beat with occasional assistance from an organ and guitar. The band saves the song’s explosion for the end, yet quickly clips it so as not to overstay its welcome. Moments like these come here and there on Share the Joy, but are enough to carry a hint of promise for future Vivian Girls albums.