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"Scylla Queens"

(pic: Mark Benney)

THE SQUARE, HARLOW

MAYBE I should've watched with my eyes closed. By the time it occurs to me, the gigs over.

Dateline: What Toni Halliday Did Next. (The no-getting-around-it short answer: noisy band with three-blonde phalanx.) A knot of enthusiastic boys cheer, crowded a respectful 10 feet back, thought bubbles over their heads going "Babes! Awright! Doing anything! Awright!" Pasty girls dragging fixedly on fags, studying the make-up, halfway between passive interest and indefinable hunger.

Think, blimey, it's Birdland. With girls. File this thought for later.

There's a big black hum out of the PA, large already and getting larger. A nagging half-chorus, guitars flywheeling onto a trancey drugged drone as Toni shakes her head, signs abstractedly with tiny hands. All of which recalls Curve, of course, though more for the faintly malevolent self-possession never quite pinpointable in the lyrics than for a voice more suited to studio-contained multi-track. It's scrabblier, being constructed with bass-drums-guitars and not Dean Garcia's seemingly sourceless aurora borealis of sound. And it might following Halliday's collaboration with Leftfield, make you think of planet Dance.

But only as much as, say the Mary Chain, as in "Trip To Another Planet" which swirls a discordant ellipticality (that'd be your Charybdis, then) around a spiteful, stomach-ache prowl. So far so tauntingly good: the hazy, repetitive one-line stasis in subsequent songs - "Sorry if it brings you down", "Don't you know fools rule" - do that trick of promising everything, saying nothing.

But first you have to look at 'em. We'll never know whether anything Halliday does isn't really all about that face, half Debbie Harry half Patricia Morrison, tilted onto those heartless cheekbones. But that's her: Scylla, bar the bloke rhythm section at the back, has upped the ante to a possibly risible (or possibly ice-cool: I'm willing to admit it could go either way) degree. Flanking a newly blonde Toni: a blonde, serenely-leather-trousered rhythm guitarist. Other side: blonde, Nicky Wire-panda-eyed, model-tall lead guitarist in a Bitch/Babe tiny T-shirt, splay-legged and staring greedily at the crowd. Now, this may all be coincidental - accident with hydrogen peroxide, whatever - but it doesn't look it.

And what, in that case, does it mean? Cheer or cringe? Indomitable Woman Power or Josie and the Faintly Feral Pussycats? If you're gonna subversively set yourselves up like ice-dolly beauty queens in a row, you'd better be pointing big sneering guns along with it. And in this case, as Toni sidles up to sneering, motorcycle-emptiness recycled rawk, the big guns need to be utterly ruthless, scornfully self-contained, lethally good songs.

By the last few, they almost convince me they're pulling it off. Halliday gets a good lungful in; Panda Eyes' steel wrists prove she's eight times better a guitarist than I'd've bet. "Cruiser", a black metal-sharp prowl, comes spiked with her itchy snapping la-la-la harmonies and a sucking Soundgarden-y vortex underneath. "Rag Doll", razor-wired with an acrid riff, goes for hell for Stooges leather - by now the sound level's triumphantly ear-bleeding - and tosses leather and fists into an amphetamine rumble.

Which is exactly the punishment they need to dole out: the message that the three blonde babes see you out there ogling and don't give a shit. Anything less would be pathetic.

review by Jennifer Nine (nicked from 'Melody Maker', dated 29 July 1995)

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