My association with The Catholic Girls dates back over 40 years ? back to my own Catholic grammar school days, in fact, when I sat behind a pre-teen Marilyn O?Connor, who would grow up to become the drummer in an all-girl high school band known as Double Cross. They self-released a marvelous single (?Private School? b/w ?Where Did I Go Wrong?) and were very popular on the NY/NJ club scene in the early 80s, eventually changing their name (and drummer) and signing to MCA, who released their magnificent self-titled debut in 1982 (a power pop masterpiece of hooks and heartaches from the pen of singer/guitarist Gail Petersen) less than a year after the debuts of The Go Go?s and Joan Jett and a full year before Madonna?s prestigious debut. Unfortunately, the male-dominated, testosterone-centric music world hadn?t quite accepted the fact that girls could play rock and roll (in these cases, better than they could) and the band dissolved after the album sank without a trace, despite heavy MTV rotation of the video for single ?Boys Can Cry.? Petersen briefly fronted an all-guy band in LA and enjoyed some success as a horror novelist and Andersen formed another all-girl band, Ladies First that toured up and down the East Coast, but, despite label interest, both felt the time wasn?t right and these projects also faded away.
Fast-forward about 20 years to a Memorial Day backyard barbecue at lead guitarist Roxy Andersen?s house, where Gail & Roxy started fooling around and singing some songs and discovered that the magic had never left, so they decided to give the band another shot. In 1999, Renaissance reissued the debut album on CD with numerous bonus tracks and the band finally issued their sophomore effort (?Make Me Believe?) 20 years after the debut. I immediately hooked up with the girls for several interviews on my radio show (photographic evidence) and was ecstatic to hear that they just self-released their third album, which also marks the return of Doreen Holmes, O?Connor?s replacement when the band changed their name and recorded their debut. So with three quarters of the original Catholic Girls back in their Mary Jane pedal-pushers and plaid, Catholic school uniforms (the band appear to be searching for a permanent bassist, as Steve Berger assisted thoughout the album, with previous bassist Stephanie Koles lending her talents to four tracks), it?s time once again to put on our dancing shoes and get set for a rollicking good time! (The album cover is even a retro depiction of the original album cover featuring the girls in the back of a school bus!)
Kicking off with their tribute to Joey Ramone, the punky, riot-grrrls-ish ?Rock?n America? blitzkrieg bops its way front and center, with its anthemic ?Hey Ho, Let?s Go? not lost on the discerning listener. Early highlight ?Some Boys? has ?Hit Single? written all over it, with its galloping, toe-tapping melody capturing the joie de vivre of their debut and equaling anything on ?Beauty and The Beat? or Jett?s self-titled debut! The cautionary lyrics (?Some boys will always break your heart?) suggest that Petersen may still be looking for love in all the wrong places, even after all these years.
Petersen?s decision to sing ?Nightshift (The Jersey Song)? through some kind of distorted megaphone robs the lyrics of their impact, although the enclosed lyric sheet suggests that Linden (a small town right next door to my home town) could do worse than adopting this as their theme song (?such a lovely town that Linden?). Petersen?s power pop prowess provides ?The Only One? with enough hooks to crochet an afghan, and fans of seminal power popsters The Beat, 20/20, and The Rubinoos (the Girls? contemporaries when their debut came out) will be immediately transported back to a kindler, gentler time in the early 80s when upbeat, stick-in-your-head melodies ruled the (new) air(wave)s. Vitriolic revenge rant ?Anyway? reminds me of The Dickies and is sure to be a crowd-pleasing anthem for any girl who?s been played the fool and dumped by some arrogant sonofabitch.
While these Catholic Girls have grown to the point where they could be moms of little Catholic Girls of their own, Petersen?s lyrics can be heard in an all new light ? as cautionary reminders of how mom was bruised and mistreated in love. So I suggest all moms sit down with their daughters and listen to the album together, and girls, listen to mom?s lurid tales of loves labors lost and don?t be so quick to write off her ?been there, done that? routine.
?Fatal? is Holmes? showcase (there?s even a mini drum solo that I?m sure is extended during live gigs) and she is more than up to the task with her galloping backbeat that?ll whip the listener into a frothy frenzy. The tearful, broken-hearted ballad ?If I Hadn?t Loved You? gives the listener a chance to catch her breath and down a few rounds of soothing spirits. Of course, if you?re not in a sentimental, reflective bonding mood, just pogo your way into the night and praise the Lord for returning The Catholic Girls back to us! 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (28 June, 2006)