THE ROCHES – The Roches (1979)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Jeremiah Methven

I remember the Roches & at least some bits of their first album from “the days” primarily because of their affiliation with Robert Fripp (he produced the album and plays a few guitar parts. Tony Levin plays on it too. Terre Roche did some vocals on Fripp’s “Exposure” album of the same year). Because of this association and also because they played in the downtown NYC clubs they somehow managed to find a place in the punk/new wave / underground music scene, even though their music didn’t fit the mold. Though not “punk” in their sound in any way, listening to this album (and this the only one of their albums I’ve heard), it’s not hard to see why this would appeal to an “alternative” audience.

The music centers around the harmonies of the three Roche sisters. Maggie sings in a surprisingly deep contralto voice. Terre sings in a high register, and Suzzie is in the middle. The lead is mostly alternated between Suzzie and Terre, but it’s not always easy to discern who’s singing what (except for Maggie’s parts). The individual voices are not really outstanding on their own, but the sum is definitely greater than the parts. The harmonies range from sweet and ethereal to (presumably deliberately) off-key and silly, perfectly matching the subject matter. The instrumentation is sparse and perfectly complements the vocals, never getting in the way. Fripp plays a few leads in his signature style. The Fripp treatment is most notable on “Hammond Song”.

The album starts off with the autobiographical “We”, which I guarantee will be a total earworm in your head for days after hearing it (“We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzie”…there it goes again!). The harmonies here are deliberately silly and somewhat childish sounding to match the humorous lyrics. Silly, but fun stuff. The next song, ““Hammond Song” is where they really start to show their chops, and is one of the highlights of the album. The harmonies range from ethereal to an almost avant-garde dissonance which is accentuated by Fripp’s guitar and Frippertronic atmospherics. “The Troubles” makes reference to the then-current violent conflict in the middle of silly lyrics about banalities like “hope they have health food in Ireland”. “Mr. Sellack” for all its witty comments about menial work, is ultimately about abandoned dreams. “The Married Men” is the most endearing song about adultery that I can think of. “The Train” suggests the barriers we put up around ourselves (perhaps necessarily) in public – “Can’t we have a party? Would he rather have a party?/After all we have to sit here and he’s even drinking a beer/ I want to ask him what’s his name/ But I can’t ’cause I’m so afraid of the man on the train” and “Pretty and High” is another highlight, but there are no weak ones. The lyrics are witty and engaging, but never didactic or obvious, as folkies tend to be all too often . They leave a lot of room for ambiguity and interpretation. Overall a definite thumbs up.

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Author: tomymostalas

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