Viv Albertine – The Vermillion Border
The sound of vulnerability in a strong, confident woman sounds like Viv Albertine. With the application of a polish that must only be available to those with her experience, insight and ability to amass the right musicians, Albertine’s first solo release, The Vermillion Border, finds the former Slits guitarist/vocalist presenting a rare peek into the life of a 57-year-old punk woman. Although their splash was predominately British, The Slits helped pave the way for punk in general and female rock in England. The Vermillion Border has a sound that is so clean with disparate sounds that at times it feels that it should not work, but it does.
Aurally, the album is clicky, polished, soft with whispers and loud with metallic clanging. On “Still England” the time signature is lost in a vocal swirl reciting things English in a type of jingoism reserved for the post 9/11 US. “It’s still England/ No one likes us/ We don’t care.” This great rap is stilted and awkward. The song’s success is representative of the greater success of The Vermillion Border. Albertine lays out her fears and concerns, an exercise that should be warm and fuzzy and filled with earth tones, yet she employs a clean method that would sound sterile if it were not for the stellar musicianship with which she surrounds herself. Her Telecaster is joined by many different guests including guitarist Mick Jones (The Clash), and bassists Jack Bruce (Cream), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and original Slits producer Dennis Bovell.
With such pronouncements as “Show me your love/ If you feel it/ I’m not ashamed/ To say I need it” from “I Want More” and her passive attack on marriage and home life on “Confessions of a MILF” (“The same thing with marriage/ It’s an unnatural state”) it seems Albertine is sharing her views on a woman’s life, a rare view in rock music. “MILF,” with its repeated “home sweet home” refrain addresses the tasks of a mother juxtaposed to divorce. On “In Vitro” Albertine uses needles as a metaphor for both drug use and In Vitro Fertilization. Either way the needles are “full of hope.” “Dappled with black bruises on white flesh,” or “Pretty babies/ Tied up with bows/ Making babies to fill up homes,” Albertine is not afraid to share her two past needle applications. Her punk past does creep in as she sings about sex with a slanted take. “Hookup Girl” may reflect on a past filled with bed-hopping and one-night-stands. “Blowjobs no kisses/ A fine romance this is/ That is my idea of sheer hell/ To be a hookup girl.”
While Albertine’s lyrical take on life motivates the story of The Vermillion Border, and this yank loves her British accent, it’s the musicianship and production that catches the ear. She is both producer and guitarist. The warmth provided by the guest bassists belies what could sound sterile and antiseptic. The songs have sharp corners but all manner of safety is created in production. The Vermillion Border is a gem of an album. Albertine’s confidence is always up front. And with such fine musicianship and production, she should have plenty of confidence to share.
The Vermillion Border