One of the raspiest rock bands to emerge from the pre-Nirvana late-'80s indie scene, Columbus Ohio's Scrawl made their mark with an unassuming album which included the memorable lament, "Sad." (In the wake of Reagan-era censorship rulings, many a DJ got a naughty jolt out of playing the unedited chorus: "I'm sad, sad/I'm so fucking sad..."). From the get-go, this (originally) all-female combo practically had a big old sign hung around their necks which read: "NO COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL." Yet they toughed it out as fixtures in alterna-land, and in the process became one of the best bands on the face of the planet... at least that's the way I see it.
Sure, they rock, but the key to Scrawl's lasting power is in their lyrics. In an era of oblique, artsy-fartsy navel-gazing and chill-room spaciness, Marcy Mays and Sue Harshe pursued a confessional muse which was less posturing than primal wail. Back at the start of their career, we all thought the bad-boyfriend song "He's Walking Away" was kinda cute... since the late '80s, though, Scrawl have refined dysfunctional love songs into a way of life (or maybe vice versa). Whether or not the songs are entirely autobiographical, they have a lot of emotional wallop.
Scrawl "Plus, Also, Too" (No Other Records, 1987)
The album that won all our hearts -- a charming, funny, straightforward rock album which helped redeem "scruffy" in the late-'80s postpunk world. Includes the aforementioned "Sad," as well as "I Can't Relax" and the doleful "He's Walking Away." Recommended!
Scrawl "He's Drunk" (Rough Trade, 1988)
Scrawl "Smallmouth" (Rough Trade, 1990)
Scrawl "Bloodsucker" (Feel Good All Over, 1991)
Scrawl "Velvet Hammer" (Simple Machines, 1993)
This is Scrawl's masterpiece. At a time when the music industry was obsessed with finding the next Nirvana or Green Day, and literally hundreds of untested, uninterestingly hyperactive, snotty rock bands were being thrown on the wall to see if anything would stick, Scrawl were still plugging away in indie-land, and had become intensely introspective. The level of songwriting skill and maturity of thought involved with this album were almost unheard of. The highlight is the plaintive, "Tell Me, Boy", an emotionally complex look at the pitfalls of cocooning, and a song which has never failed to get a strong response with the radio audience, generally along the lines of, "Yikes! That's my life they're singing about!"
Boy, no one's asking me out anymore
Can you tell me where I've gone wrong?
The girls don't think I'm any fun...
Tell me now
Where I've gone wrong...
How'd you get to be
The only one?
Other lyrics are less poetic, but no less direct, and taken as a whole the album is quite unsettling. Are the songs about relationship fistfights ("Take A Swing") and family secrets ("You're Mother Wants To Know") recovery movement literary role playing, or are these gals actually up to their eyeballs in some deep emotional sh*t? It's hard to tell, but unsettling either way. A spare, moody, at times savage, album which I rate as one of the best of its era. Recommended.
Scrawl "Scrawl" (Headhunter, 1994)
Scrawl "Travel On Rider" (Elektra, 1996)
Their major label "debut" continues on in the more-than-dysfunctional-relationship songwriting mode, though the production is gussied up and given a larger, more ringing sound. A good, solid album, though maybe not as emotionally resonant as the much quieter Velvet Hammer. Worth checking out.
Scrawl "Nature Film" (Elektra, 1998)
By the band's standards, this is a fairly "slick" album -- which is appropriate, since many of the tracks are re-recordings of old songs they thought were too raspy in their original indie versions. Then again, rawness was always a big part of Scrawl's appeal, so gussying their sound up seems almost self-contradictory. A nice presentation which may appeal more to the uninitiated listener, rather than the diehard Scrawl fan, but certainly worth giving a listen.
Scrawl @ PO BOX 82058 Columbus, Ohio 43202