Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers, Teenage and Torture
More than anything else, Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers’ Teenage and Torture makes me think of a dimly-lit, half-remembered night spent trawling through the seamy, sordid underbelly of some grimy, unnamed Big City, full of pain and lust and exploitation. The album feels less like, well, an album and more like a travelogue of sorts, a guided tour to everything dark and shameful men do in the dark.
I should note, by the way, that I mean the “men” bit above specifically — there’s a lot on Teenage and Torture that seems (from what I can understand of frontwoman Ray’s half-yowled/half-muttered vocals) pretty damning towards men as a whole and towards men who prey on women in general. It’s hard not to feel a little dirty and ashamed listening to lead-in track “Hookers,” for one, which shifts between a murky, menacing stomp and a sultry, alluring (yet fake) come-on. When Ray demands “click on me, boy! click on me!”, I can’t help but cringe.
The same goes for “Genie’s Drugs,” to give another example; the meandering, accordion-tinged, almost Floydian psych-garage seems to offer a resigned accusation, with Ray declaring somberly, “You can’t be a sinner / when you think that all you do is right.” And hey, there’s the song titles themselves, like “Stick It To The Woman,” “Dames A Dime A Dozen,” and “Erotolepsy.” After a while, I’m left feeling a little bit like I did in the Chaucer class I took back in college that happened to be taught by a very feminist-leaning professor (and in which I was the lone guy).
This isn’t all to say that Teenage and Torture is in any way bad, mind you. If I can turn my brain/collective male guilt off somewhat, the album is one hell of a roaring, fiery romp through those aforementioned seedy streets. Ray herself leads the way with her rough-edged, husky vocals, which swing between heavy-lidded wooziness (“Requiem In A Key I Don’t Know”) and frenzied howl (“Stick It To The Woman”), coming off like a more bluesy Karen O or an electrified Chan Marshall. She keeps you on your toes, never certain whether she’s going to whisper sweetly or take a swing at your head.
As for the music, it’s raw, dirty-sounding blues-punk that owes as much to the Ramones as it does Phil Spector-style girl groups; there are parts where Teenage and Torture makes me think of a slowed-down, drugged-out Distillers, but really, you have to grab further back than that for a true comparison, back to the Rough Trade heyday or to NY No Wave. Ray and her Hookers are at their best when they cut loose, as on “Stick It To The Woman,” which is snarling and overfuzzed beyond belief, riding a bumping, stair-stepping bassline and UFO-on-fire keys to heights like those I’d always figured the Doors might reach (before I realized they were way more tame than that).
“Liquidation Sale” works similarly well, all frantic desperation and ticking-clock rhythms beneath Ray’s gut-punched yowl and the occasional left-hook of gorgeously lush melody. And yeah, the whole time I am still thinking about what it (might) all mean and feeling weirdly uncomfortable, but fuck it, I don’t care. When it’s done, I just want to take Ray’s tour of the dirty city streets all over again.