I was only nine years old when L7 dropped Bricks Are Heavy (inducted into our Hall of Fame in November 2014; you can purchase the issue here), so I don’t have the luxury of saying I saw their mighty brand of punk/grunge/garage rock coming and made sure to get in on the ground floor. Instead, my first exposure to the L.A. quartet was through an avenue that broke (for better or worse) countless acts in the ’90s: Beavis and Butt-head. Somewhere between ripping on Michael Bolton and Morbid Angel, my intrepid heroes watched the sepia-drenched music video for “Pretend We’re Dead” and managed to avoid uttering any criticism aside from, “Is this The Bangles?” I took that as a stamp of approval: L7 was a band to keep an eye on. Plus, I kinda liked The Bangles.
Twenty-three years later, it’s still an absolute pleasure to listen to Bricks Are Heavy from front to back: 38 minutes of raw, melodic power-grunge with a sixth sense for massive hooks and killer riffs. Nirvana’s Nevermind may have brought an unnatural number of eyes to the album, but unlike many of its peers from that era, L7’s seminal third LP stands the test of time via its excellent songs, hefty production (courtesy of the legendary Butch Vig), pithy lyrics and general “go fuck yourself” attitude. Ranking these nasty jams from “worst to best” is a downright punchable offense, but let’s do it anyway.
11. One More Thing
This song has a pretty rad chorus, but the verses are kinda boring and the pacing feels out of place with the rest of the songs so it has to bring up the rear. I feel like every grunge band had one of these shoegazey power ballads, so I suppose it succeeds in its intentions. Also, Jennifer Finch randomly morphs into Glenn Danzig at 2:07, which is pretty awesome.
10. This Ain’t Pleasure
Dat doom intro. Seriously, if you didn’t know what you were listening to, you might be like, “This is a pretty sweet Candlemass riff that I don’t remember for some reason.” And even though the Sabbath worship only lasts about 20 seconds (with a brief reprise in the middle), it still serves as an effective lead-in for the high-octane pulse of the rest of the song. Makes me want to hop on a motorcycle and just ride, maaannn.
I love Finch’s bass tone on “Monster”—since she starts the song by herself, it sets a filthy mood from the jump and permeates the entire track. This is also one of three tunes that Suzi Gardner sings lead on, and its slinky tempo and grimy atmosphere are a perfect fit for her characteristic gruffness. Bring out the monster!
“Everglade” is kind of like King Diamond: you know the lyrics are stupid, but that’s paradoxically what makes it so awesome. L7’s tale of moshpit revenge was Bricks Are Heavy’s second single, and for good reason—it’s a quintessential example of the band’s ability to combine melody, songwriting and punk rock ethos into one cohesive package. Also, I’m not sure why they didn’t call this song “Rednecks on Parade,” because that shit is hilarious.
7. Mr. Integrity
What if Dick Dale left the picturesque surroundings of Southern California and spent the 1970s slamming heroin with the Sex Pistols? If he could have dragged himself off the flophouse floor and into a recording studio, it would probably sound something like “Mr. Integrity.” L7’s punked-up surf jam has since become a staple of their catalog, and I have to think it owes much of its longevity to how much goddamn fun it is. Bongos, hand claps, Beach Boys backing vocals…the ladies went all out with this one.
Gardner’s sneering vocals are probably the most identifiable aspect of “Slide,” but don’t sleep on Demetra Plakas’ drumming or Donita Sparks’ guitar leads—both are crucial to the song’s infectious drive. And even though these riffs are some of the most straightforward on the album, the band delivers them with a pissed-off energy that translates well in context. Especially because Gardner sounds like she’s five seconds away from stabbing you in the gut.
5. Pretend We’re Dead
Forget Bricks Are Heavy’s most famous song—“Pretend We’re Dead” is probably the most well-known tune of L7’s career. This is both bizarre and completely understandable to me; it’s more polished and “poppy” than anything on the record, but its musical qualities are no more interesting than those of its peers. Much of its crossover appeal probably comes from its earworm chorus, which was practically born for early ’90s rock radio. Either way, this song rules and I used to bump the shit out of it while mowing down pedestrians in GTA: San Andreas.
Bricks Are Heavy’s lead-off track wastes zero time in setting the tone for the rest of the album: big riffs, fast drumming, catchy vocal hooks and a general disdain for society. Sparks’ sarcastic, anti-war lyrics are a big part of the song’s effectiveness, and they remain eerily relevant two-plus decades after the fact. Also, best song name ever.
Oh man, where to start with this monster? From the bar fight scene in Natural Born Killers to the entrance music of one of the most underrated pro wrestlers to ever step foot in the squared circle (that’s Flyin’ Brian Pillman, bubba), “Shitlist” has been involved in some of pop culture’s finest moments. I love how Sparks’ vocals get more and more unruly as the song progresses, like she’s processing all the people on her aforementioned list in real time and can’t help but succumb to her unbridled rage. Great stuff.
“Scrap” is L7 personified: tounge-in-cheek lyrics that tell an entertaining story, dirty riffs that push forward with steadfast determination, Finch and Plakas playing right in the pocket…all executed perfectly in less than three minutes. Also, this song was co-written by Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz, so it has a healthy dose of melodic hardcore swagger embedded in its DNA. The funky dying braiiinnn cellllll!
1. Diet Pill
Along with Soundgarden’s “Outshined,” this has to be one of the heaviest riffs the grunge scene ever produced. Butch Vig’s production and Sparks’ and Gardner’s guitar tones undoubtedly play important roles, but there’s something primally intense about this song that begins and ends with its big, dumb main riff. An absolutely crushing ode to escaping the trappings of middle-class suburbia. Any doom band you can think of could cover this song and it would destroy. I nominate Church of Misery.