Chicks on Speed

99 Cents

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Though there was a three-year gap between Chicks on Speed's debut album Will Save Us All! and its follow-up 99 Cents, the band was busy evolving via a prolific amount of singles. And, though the release of Will Save Us All! and 99 Cents roughly bookended the rise and fall of electroclash, the Chicks' second album underscores that the band still has more vitality and ideas than most other artists associated with that trend ever did. 99 Cents reaffirms that the band is more of a smart electronic pop project than anything else: fashion, consumerism, and conventional notions of originality and authenticity are all questioned and played with in the group's intellectually mischievous way. Chicks on Speed do this most overtly on the album's singles, such as the anti-rock of "We Don't Play Guitars," which nevertheless features a six-string solo and cameo from kindred spirit Peaches. The band borrows the Tom Tom Club's highbrow but inclusive dance-pop of "Wordy Rappinghood" and emphasizes its party vibe by inviting virtually every likeminded female electronic artist -- including Miss Kittin, Kevin Blechdom, Le Tigre, Adult.'s Nicola Kuperus, and the Tom Tom Club's own Tina Weymouth -- to sing on the track. "Fashion Rules," with its vaguely creepy refrain of "fashion is for fashion people," reflects the band's mingled fascination and repulsion for its targets. The title track could have been one of their most obvious attacks on consumerism, but it admits some ambivalence ("I'm not crazy about money, but I like what it can do"), and the album's liner notes also double as a catalog of Chicks on Speed merch. However, several of 99 Cents' album tracks make the group's points more subtly and are some of the most sonically interesting music that they've made. Where Will Save Us All! was a blast of righteous electro-punk energy, this album sounds more like fighting the system from within, with a surprisingly pretty, polished pop side that borrows mainstream dance-pop and urban production techniques. The choppy, acoustic melancholia of "Coventry" conveys the isolation of modern life far better than a harangue about it would; likewise, "Culture Vulture" makes the most of Kiki's Nico-like vocals. An unusually melancholy undercurrent colors 99 Cents, particularly on the trophy-girlfriend lament "Love Life" and "Shick Shaving," a pretty, and pretty disturbing, Miss Kittin-sung track that mixes images of shaving and cutting. This melancholia seeps into some of the album's louder tracks like "Sell-Out," which advises "do it to yourself before it's done to you" before descending into hellish marketing jargon. It's a far cry from the emphatic style of Will Save Us All! (although this sound pops up, with diminishing returns, on tracks like "Universal Pussyy"), but it shows how willing Chicks on Speed are to challenge themselves as well as their listeners. [The U.S. version of 99 Cents arrived a year later than the European release but rewards American listeners for their patience with a bonus disc that features almost an hour's worth of remixes of "We Don't Play Guitars" and "Wordy Rappinghood"; Cristian Vogel, Christopher Just, and Tiefschwarz's remix of the former and Dave Clarke's reworking of the latter are among the standouts.]

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