Merill "Peaches" Nisker has built her career around both naughty come-ons and social commentary. But there is no doubt that for some listeners, her feminist rhetoric is muddled by her raunchy lyrical assault. Potty-mouth aesthetics aside, Peaches' songs have always been centered on a strong urge to question everything from gender relations and homophobia to the ubiquity of pop culture, and this dissatisfaction with the status quo is what lends her music its appeal.
With Impeach My Bush, her third full-length album, Peaches' hefty doses
of satire and sexual freedom take on censorship, the establishment, and media
with her characteristically explicit electro tales of multiple partners and orifice
exploration. She uses her usual shock tactics to surprise and stun her audience,
creating a fun, yet at times disposable, atmosphere. But her antics tend to diminish
the effectiveness of her outspoken pleas for gender and sexual equality, creating
a rather mixed message.
Since 2003's uneven Fatherfucker, Peaches has gravitated towards a fuller, more rock-oriented sound, but lyrically she remains characteristically brash and sexually charged. In the past, she gained notoriety as a one-woman show, self-producing, self-writing, and self-sculpting crude beats. Impeach My Bush incorporates a supporting band (including members from Le Tigre, Hole, and Eagles of Death Metal) as well as original analog gear like Moogs and drum machines, resulting in both musical unevenness and party-ready fun.
Boasting a roster of famous cameos and the help of co-producers Mickey Petralia (who's worked with Ladytron and Beck) and Greg Kurstin (who made beats for Gwen Stefani and latest it-girl Lily Allen), Impeach My Bush is studded with likely (and unlikely) guests. It's slightly perplexing, for example, that Peaches would welcome the inclusion of Josh Homme, the embodiment of all things cock-rock and macho. His typical bad-boy rock 'n' roll stylings (including Queens of the Stone Age and, most recently, Eagles of Death Metal) worship skanky women, chain smoking, and hot rods all "masculine" clichés that Peaches presumably would like to see dismantled.
Such thematic discontinuities diminish the power of some of Peaches' other, more
effective, songs, like her prostitution-condemning "Stick It to the Pimp." Nevertheless,
she counteracts the revved-up TEODM sexuality with equal amounts of tongue-in-cheek
satire, and the result does fit snugly into her new power chord-friendly
Of course, Peaches' lyrics have always been the main focus. While it rarely strays
from her titillating formula of sex, sex, and more sex, Impeach My Bush is
also touted as a politically subversive anti-war record. But let's be honest:
Peaches' slogans seem almost exclusively directed toward gay and women's rights
(for which we are grateful), so the release of Impeach My Bush during
such politically divisive times feels sneakily convenient. Sexual flamboyance
collides with political protest in her lyrics, but snippets like "Let's face
it, we all want tush/ If I'm wrong, then impeach my bush" don't really seem all
that political. Even the album cover, which features Peaches in a glittery burqa,
says more about her theatrical, feminist ideology than a specific anti-war stance.
Peaches frequently cites PJ Harvey as an influence, and it is easy to see the similarities. Both attempt to redefine traditional notions of femininity and sexuality, usually by subverting or reversing male and female roles. It's an ambitious goal, to be sure, but, unlike Polly Jean Harvey or any
early-'90s riot-grrl, Peaches critiques misogyny, sexism, and homophobia with a sensational, intentionally raunchy, and faux-sleazy approach (remember when "Fuck the Pain Away" was played during the strip-bar scene in Lost in Translation?). PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney reinvigorated a new generation of female musicians through subtle lyrics and a barrage of guitars (Harvey's 1992 single "Dress" was a scathing critique of modern femininity); Peaches is staking her claim by way of electro beatmaking and a relentless, take-no-prisoners, borderline-hilarious camp sensibility.
It's clear from numerous interviews that Peaches is articulate and intelligent. She remains outspoken about the absence of strong, fearless female rockers who frequently graced the covers of music magazines in the early '90s ("How come grunge got to go and go and go, which was mostly male-dominated except for Hole and Babes in Toyland?... It's a boys' club and it has
always been a boys' club," she told Bust magazine earlier this year).
Despite her media-spotlight antics, Peaches has some pretty empowering
things to say. She favors womb envy over penis envy (her Web site
boasts a heaping collection of crotch shots); she advocates
two-guy-and-a-girl threesomes, a notion that would make more than a few
heterosexual men uncomfortable ("Two Guys for Every Girl"); she constantly challenges
conventional depictions of beauty (she's also a fan of the androgynous-looking
Pink), and has posed in a beard (the album cover of Fatherfucker) or unattractive
clothes (now that she's almost 40, Peaches' onstage hot-pants/bra combo seems
a nostalgic nod to the early days of PJ Harvey).
Although Peaches doesn't compromise her lyrical sensibility, Impeach My Bush does find her more focused and committed to bulking up the sound of the music itself (with the exception of the wisp of a song "Rock the Shocker"). It's her most musically diverse record yet, featuring a typical rehash of lo-fi electroclash ("Tent in Your Pants" and "Hit It Hard" have the same squelching bass lines as the early hit "Fuck the Pain Away"), surprisingly restrained delicacy (the slinky music of "Downtown" matches up well with its naughty, eye-winking lyrics like "'cause I wanna take you downtown"), even some lo-fi electro/hip-hop ("Slippery Dick'). There are plenty of muscular guitar riffs (including her best Karen O impression on "Do Ya"). Joan Jett pitches in both vocals and guitar on the aggressive, driving "You Love It"; "Boys Wanna Be Her" and the blues-inflected "Give 'Er," though, are annoyingly repetitive.
Stamped with Matthew Perpetua's (Fluxblog) seal of approval, "Two Guys for Every Girl" is anchored by a vocal turn from the Gossip's Beth Ditto (who also
defies conventional "hipster" attractiveness), as Peaches' deadpan rapping weaves in and out of Ditto's smoothed-out chorus like a seasoned boxer. Peaches convincingly namedrops everything from Heidi Fleiss to marmalade, including the memorable line, "Slapping those dicks all over the place, rubbing your shit all over your face."
But, as with much of Peaches' oeuvre, the initial shock tends to wear thin after
repeated listens. She can still depend on her cultish, modestly-sized back catalog
for play at clubs and parties, and with this album she can add a few more numbers
to the repertoire. Despite the presence of some new political material, Peaches'
best songs stick to her gender-focused wordplay. Her rock-oriented approach here
please some, but such a genre-hopping exercise is only occasionally provocative.