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The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews: “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” by Jack Off Jill, 2000

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Jack Off Jill is a band that never got the fame they deserved. Now, there are tons of bands who would be described in the same way, but that is undeservingly so. Jack Off Jill formed in 1992 by frontwoman and songwriter Jessika Fodera (known as Jessika Addams). Coming out of the Ft. Lauderdale goth rock scene along with Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids; they had a distinct sense of sharp songwriting and self-empowerment that Manson lacked. Whether it’s the bands “risqué” name or their brevity in existence, JOJ didn’t make it big. However, this is not to say they didn’t leave us an album worthy of immense praise and awe, and “ Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” is that such album.

 

Released on July 17th, 2000, it would be the bands’ second and final album. They debuted in 1997 with “Sexless Demons & Scars”, an angry goth punk album, and honestly, not a very good record. It did produce the bands’ only song to have a music video to go along with it, namely “My Cat”, a song about Twiggy Ramirez, who dated Jessika for a while, but is claimed by Jessika to have raped her. This dynamic between Marilyn Manson, whose co-founder Scott Putesky was also a guitarist for JOJ, and Jessika would have a huge impact on the themes found in “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers”.   When comparing the overall sound and tones between their debut and “Clear Hearts”, one notices a drastic improvement in the production and song length. Their debut is extremely influenced by the early riot-grrll scene with bands such as Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland, who usually stuck to short and angry punk songs.

Jack Off Jill would go on to push those boundaries to the max, by expanding their songwriting and the style of their songs. Out with the overt shock value and excessive cursing (not that it offends me, but there’s barley one clean song on “Sexless…”) and in with some much needed polish and clear focus on impacting the listener without just offending them. “Clear Hearts” is very much so a concept album, with each song flowing smoothly into the next one, to create a vague story of battling a dark past and exercising presumably Jessika’s inner demons. To focus on each track would be starting a novel-like review, so it behooves us to focus on only the standout tracks.

JOJ2

Courtesy of Google Images

“Fear of Dying” is the second track on “Clear Hearts”, and immediately Jessika opens up in a blunt way about her feelings, seen in these opening lyrics “I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, I’m just afraid of being ignored, I’m not afraid of feeling and I’m not afraid of trying….., I’m just afraid of losing and I am afraid of dying!” Speculation on whether this is about Twiggy or not isn’t too vital to enjoying the song itself, and standing in awe at Jessika’s unmatched screams in the song. Now, “Nazi Halo” which follows “Fear of Dying” has been confirmed to be about Twiggy, and it’s fairly clear in these lyrics “Just cause I’m listening, Don’t mean we’re still friends, Can’t fix my problem, You crossed a thin line, You can’t just work it out, Not with me this time”.

The third to last standout track is perhaps their most well-known song next to “My Cat”. “Strawberry Gashes” is a slow and grungy song. A beautiful and personal song that could have been a radio hit, but never garnered the fame it could achieve. There’s immense speculation about what this song is about, but the most agreed upon theory is that it is about Jessika’s rape from Twiggy, and the “gashes “are her scars from cutting herself or imagined scars from being “used”. Now let me intercede here and say that the meaning of the song that the songwriter intended is NOT important to the song itself and your ability to enjoy it. Whatever the songwriter intended is only for their own sake, and if they wish to make a message be heard loud and clear, they need to make the lyrics so clear that it cannot be up for debate. “Strawberry Gashes” lyrics are fairly vague, and Jessika never commented on the exact meaning behind the name. So, with that in mind, we can only sit and enjoy the song as an incredibly moving and heavy piece of riot-grrll/ grunge music.

Flowing right in from “Strawberry Gashes” is “Author Unknown”, the most angry song on this album. Channeling the vibe on their previous album, much of this song is screamed, as a musical middle finger to whomever Jessika intended this track to be about. This lyrics make it very clear that she is pissed. “no forgiveness you’re no martyr, sell yourself, make it true, there’s no price tag on my conscience, here’s your answer, it’s still f*ck you!” This is that song on the album intended as a mosh pit opener, and it achieves that with flying colors.

Finally reaching the final standout track, and coincidently it’s the title track. “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” is another angry song, but builds up with a slow chant, eventually leading to the lines screamed like shouts from hell from Jessika “I’m not the girl that stopped and stared, I’m not the girl that lied, Your mouth is like an open sore, Where kisses rot and die, This is what you want this is what you get, This is what you want this is what you get.”

This album is a snapshot at a time the band’s career when they had nothing to lose. They hated each other by this point, and they didn’t have much money left to spend on the studio time to make this album. Their producer, Chris Vrenna, is a genius; he has to be because he didn’t have much to work with, but made this album sound sonically incredible. Each instrument stands out, with the perfect amount of polish and fuzz to make it pack a massive punch but not sound like debut Wavves level of bad. Think “Blue Album” Weezer production with a tad more treble on the guitars. It’s an angry and in-your-damn-face album, a good fifteen tracks of Jessika venting her frustrations backed with slick songwriting and perfect production.

Until the next review, take care.

 

Written by Anthony Messina.

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