The Catholic Girls have long been New Jersey’s most underrated purveyors of poppy, punk new wave. This is a band that you could say actually practiced what they preached. The group started with a chance encounter between Gail Petersen and Roxy Andersen. The girls were attending real life Catholic school at the time. After many conversations and meetings of shared interest, the girls decided to put together what would become New Jersey’s first, all-girl power punk outfit to get signed to a major label deal.
Moreover, while other peripheral members would come and go, Roxy Andersen, Gail Petersen and drummer Doreen Holmes remain the nucleus that fueled the imaginations of music fans across the world. The Catholic Girls became an underground favorite and experienced the highs and lows of being signed, touring with prominent names such as Tom Petty and The Kinks, and being pigeonholed and branded by those in the industry that didn’t understand them.
Donning traditional uniforms of plaid, The Catholic Girls set the music scene on fire in the ’80s. Utilizing Catholicism laced props, they were the first to come out decked in rosary beads, crosses and even a St. Sebastian medallion, using the shock and awe of good girls gone bad long before Madonna saw the light. It is alleged that the Archdiocese of Rhode Island banned the group from playing in his state because he deemed the band sacrilegious with the song, “God Made You For Me,” off of their MCA debut. His major discontent was that the song was an ode to god being a woman.
And that was this band’s dilemma. They were viewed as a misunderstood threat by media and church, something to block from the general public. Traditional radio didn’t want to take a chance on the bold, religious imagery of women taking dominant roles in a genre reserved for male screamers and six-string gun slingers. Back then, as far as radio was concerned, it was too dangerous to be associated with something so controversial. The truth is they probably just didn’t know how to market the juxtaposition of religious rebellion and punk rock attitude.
The Catholic Girls enjoyed time on MTV as well as VH1 before eventually drifting into different directions of life, but they continued to reunite and stay in the world of their musical origins. This is a band that has had many firsts. The use of religious intellectual properties as fashion, compositional independence as producers and the use of controversial publicity with their image. Their website goes on to explain how that may have been ignored by the shortsighted industry of the day when they say, “While MTV and VH1 now find all this stuff ‘fresh and new,’ or ‘full of insightful dark lyricism and meaning,’ in the ‘80s, these same channels were not forward-thinking enough to recognize the real thing. Four girls in black school uniforms couldn’t possibly be doing things destined to be the future of music.”
The Catholic Girls have survived. And the result is their new CD, The Catholic Girls Exposed! Produced by Gail Peterson and Roxy Andersen (like all of their projects), The Catholic Girls Exposed! is a 14-song romp through pastures of a simpler time.
Featuring a bevy of recognizable styles, The Catholic Girls kick off their disc with “Sleep,” an ‘80s flavored tune featuring simple backbeats and melodic guitar voicings. Chimed, solid and live, it reminds me of stuff like Kim Wilde’s “The Kids Of America,” or just about anything Jane Wiedlin did on her own.
Other songs that caught my ear were the hypnotic rock attitude of “It Doesn’t Become You.” Vocal lead and harmonies meld well here, and guitars sustain for days in the choruses and bridges. Choruses are simple and catchy in a strange, Fleetwood Mac meets David Bowie kind of way.
“No One Like You” comes out with giant, fuzzy guitar lines that dip and rise like a roller coaster before dumping you into the vocal path of Gail Petersen, whose voice has been growing on me as I listen to this disc. Simple, innocent production makes this CD unique to me. I can hear what some producers and critics might call mistakes, but what I consider human personality and honest portrayal of a sound not invented to be glistening pop pablum is what’s important here. I tend to give a warbling vocal or two a break when it’s presented as a whole as it is on this disc.
The breezy, guitar harmony intro of “Grounded” pushes along under the ‘60s flavor of Petersen as she guitar chugs under Andersen’s melodic guitar lead lines. “Grounded” is a swirling mixture of The Mommas & The Poppas and The Runaways. Kudos to drummer and percussionist Doreen Holmes, who keeps this project moving at a brisk and accurate pace. Rough, tough and sassy, this is the kind of stuff that initially caught the attention of Miami Stevie Van Zandt.
“Airplay” is a stinging look at an industry that promises more than it delivers. It tells the story of a band seeking the acceptance they’ve worked so hard for, and probably never receive. This is a song that once again utilizes much from 1960s pop hits. “Valleri” by The Monkees comes strikingly to mind, as does a cute and brief foray into The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” during the lead break in the bridge. Snaggletoothed rhythm guitars and Holmes’ double attack on tom tom and snare puts the animal in this tune and drives it down the fast lane to well-deserved alt radio acknowledgment.
If I spotted a theoretical hit on the disc, my choice would be “Broken Record.” This is pure Catholic Girls and features everything that got them noticed in the first place. Infectious guitar bounces hard chugged rhythms between tube soaked harmonies and single line runs that would make anything The Go-Go’s did look pale in comparison. Petersen sings effortlessly and Andersen’s harmony work is easy on the ears.
“Called You Up” is a tear-jerker awash in images of a rock and roll girl too proud to acknowledge the love intentions of her man. “I wrote a letter, but it made no sense, I tried to find you in the audience.” “Called You Up” combines traditional regret with catchy choruses. The minor bridge sneaks in without announcement, but when it downshifts into the guitar solo section, it’s refocused and makes sense in this colorful, pop ode to unrequited love.
“Heartbreak 101” pumps along with TR-606 drum machine precision and plucky, stark electrics before Andersen flies into the stratosphere for her lead break. Special notice should also go to guest bassist Steve Berger on this disc, as he did a commendable job. To me, this is low tech at its most interesting. The emphasis on this song, as well as most of the ones on this record, is on feelings and their long-time fans, and it works for this band.
The Catholic Girls Exposed! is a roughly tumbled gem that showcases a group that has done things their own way, made many successful trips to the altar and have not succumbed to an unsaintly fall from grace. I don’t think it would work for any other group that attempts this, but The Catholic Girls have their own divine intervention when it comes to their approach to writing, recording and releasing quirky, jangle-laden pop rock music without pomp and circumstance.
For more info on The Catholic Girls Exposed!, head to their very own house of worship at thecatholicgirls.net