Veruca Salt burst onto the scene a caterwauling ball of sonic combustion, clawing, sneering, scratching with American Thighs in 1994. Named for Roald Dahl’s tantrum-throwing rich girl in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the Chicago-based group watched their single “Seether” turn gold on the wings of post-teenage meltdown. In the 21 years since then, Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack have released three other LPs on multiple different record labels, and their tumultuous history didn’t necessarily bode a good return to arms.
But as few measures of bass noodles on Ghost Notes give way to some low-slung electric guitar, the opening salvo of “The Gospel According To Saint Me” proclaims Veruca Salt’s strong return. Despite California-sweet harmonies on the chorus declaration, “It’s gonna get loud, gonna get heavy/ Kiss the ground, lay it down/The gospel according to Saint Me,” Veruca Salt remains an unapologetic rock band. They’re as lean, vicious and brazen as ever.
As “Saint Me” morphs into “Black and Blond,” Veruca Salt shows that they haven’t gone soft from time, life or love. “Tear me down, tear me down,” burns the invective, “I’m the greatest fucking thing… that… ever… happened to… you,” they scream. Later, “Museum of Broken Relationships” is just sparse guitar, with the bass lying in wait and the drums punching the beat.
But not everything on Ghost Notes erupts from a woman scorned. Crashing beats, raw electric guitars, thick harmonies and great hooks pull punk’s pop innocence over the hot coals of rock ‘n’ roll. Lead single “Laughing in a Sugar Bowl” and the propulsive groove of “Love You Less” sound like the confectionary punk-pop of what the Bangles wanted to embody. After all these years, the members of Veruca Salt are like sparks banging into each other, their notes and beats still giving off heavy heat. And ultimately, that is what makes Ghost Notes work.