Album Review: U.S. Girls - In A Poem Unlimited
U.S. Girls is a plural moniker, but has always been a project attributed to the singular Meg Remy. Nevertheless, U.S. Girls has always been a more than appropriate name for the project, as Remy sings of issues facing society at large, and could often be speaking for the female population of America. Take for example, ‘Mad As Hell’, the lead single from new album In A Poem Unlimited, which first came out at the start of October. It’s a subtle anti-war song, and came shortly after Trump and Kim Jong-Un’s dick measuring contest that potentially threatened to start World War III. It also came at the height of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and all the fall-out that would come from that, so it was fair to say that we were all pretty much ‘Mad As Hell’ at the time.
In fact, it seems as though the things that Remy has been singing about since she started U.S. Girls 10 years ago are only just now coming to the fore in the public consciousness. Her last album, 2014’s Half Free, was a particularly scorching feminist album that spoke out on female liberation and male oppression. While In A Poem Unlimited picks up many of these same themes, it is by no means a retread, as we also have songs about war, paranoia, the disaffected public and the unstoppable passing of time, to name a few topics. But, even more diverse are the arrangements and styles employed throughout the album; Remy enlisted the help of over 20 different men and women to help bring In A Poem Unlimited into luscious life – so that would make this the least “solo” U.S. Girls album yet.
Although all the songs here could be broadly termed synth-pop, there’s no two that sound alike, and at first seem like slightly uncomfortable bedfellows. The sexy saxophone imbued siren-call of ‘Rage Of Plastics’ leads into the spiky and unruly ‘Mad As Hell’. Remy turns the lights low and gets all sultry in the luscious velour of ‘Rosebud’, which sits next to the upbeat and outward looking electro-dirge ‘Incidental Boogie’, which utilises a large synthesizer melody reminiscent of 90s alt-pop titans Primal Scream. ‘L-Over’ is a punchy synthetic take on jazz-rock, followed up by ‘Pearly Gates’ a song as smooth and catchy as a 2000s hip-hop track that Nate Dogg might be on. The album closes with ‘Time’, a fast-paced kraut-esque number that rides out its insuppressible bass line and conga drums for a good 8 minutes. It’s arguable that the album loses some cohesion due to these stylistic inconsistencies, but then it would be hard, if not impossible, to pick a song to extract.
The magic of U.S. Girls’ music is how Remy manages to make all of them sound like perfect little pop songs – it’s only once you actually pay attention to the lyrical content that you actually realise quite how furious and sardonic they are. ‘Mad As Hell’ is a galloping pop affair that could easily fly under the radar onto radio playlists around the world, until you watch the video and get the full force of the protest that Remy is putting up. Opener ‘Velvet For Sale’ sidles into being on whispers and alluring guitars, suggesting seduction, but lyrically Remy is telling the tale of a woman so afraid of the violence within her ex-partner that she is buying a gun just in case he comes back. ‘Incidental Boogie’ is a big and boisterous number into which Remy projects her most derisive lyrics on the album, taking on the character of a woman so entrenched in her perceived norms of society that she believes she’s lucky to have a man who doesn’t beat her too hard and leaves no marks. ‘Pearly Gates’ is an infectious throwback groove that tells the tale of a woman trying to seduce St. Peter at the gates of Heaven to gain access. I could go on expounding on all the hidden stories and styles of In A Poem Unlimited, but that would only spoil the fun.
This is the most rewarding album from the project yet, as it only seems to unfold further and further as you delve deeper and keep replaying. Meg Remy may have enlisted many collaborators to help bring about the polychromatic genre-hopping collection, but it is still her album first and foremost. She is the soul and the voice of U.S. Girls; the project - and beyond.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 16th February 2018.