The Debray sisters (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ and guitarist Noemie, or ‘Mie’, a.k.a. The SoapGirls), those two threats to all that is good, proper and decent have returned with their long-awaited new album ‘Elephant In The Room’. They’ve billed it as their third album but it’s actually their fourth, if we include their 2011 (pop-orientated) major-label release ‘Xperience’. That platter, a hit in their South African homeland, has now been put in the same cupboard under the stairs as Pantera’s first four albums however, since they made it when they were still teens, and had little to no influence on its content. This one then, is their third as independent artists, and if you have the two previous offerings (‘Calls For Rebellion’, 2015; ‘Society’s Rejects’, 2017) then you’ll know what to expect here.
As with the last two albums, there’s a saucy cover shot of the girls; that should please the Beavis and Butthead brigade (huhuhuh – the girls themselves find the cartoon duo funny) but will doubtless reinforce the prejudice against them from certain quarters. What their detractors are missing however, is that there is no sleazy record executive ‘encouraging’ them to dress (or not, as the case may be!) provocatively, there’s no outside influence at all. Their look, and musical direction is all their own; they set out to please themselves first and if you like it, that’s great but if not, that’s fine too. All they ask is that they be allowed to be themselves; they’re not changing their style for anybody. Anyway, cover photos matter little once you’ve got the music playing, and as this album has been played in the car for pretty much the past week, we’ll talk no more of their image and focus on the sounds.
‘One Way Street’ picks up where they left off with the last album, that insistent drum beat and jagged guitar riff is present and correct. It’s Mie who takes lead vocal on this number, Mille coming in on the choruses with the two blending nicely in the pre-chorus. That is one of several tracks that will be familiar already to the Soapsuds, as it’s been played live over the past year. ‘Bitter’ continues the pace, but has a gentler guitar intro more akin to post-punk than hard rock, and with a harmonised chorus of ‘Not My Fault You’re Bitter’. The riff in the verses to this one made me think of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’!
Though there’s plenty of the usual Soap tropes with lyrics dealing with their various trials and tribulations, heavy guitar, F-bombs dropped all over the place and that vocal combination of the raucous Mille and the sweeter sound of Mie, there are a few new wrinkles this time around too. For one thing the production on this record is a noticeable step up from the last two records, the grungy riffs are still there (‘Chains’ is as heavy as anything, and ‘In The Name Of God’ has a guitar sound Queens of the Stone Age would cast envious ears to) but the overall sound is that much sharper, clearer. For another, this time around they’ve introduced their brother (Redd-Valentino Debray) who features on ‘My Development’. An angry riposte against a neighbour who objected strongly to the band’s rehearsing, it is prefaced by Mie presumably relaying the tirade they were subjected to, before Redd delivers a rap/rant of his own in the verses. Redd is also credited on ‘Sugar Gets You High’, a typical Soapy rocker combining that buzzsaw guitar with Buggles-style ‘oh-oh’ vocals. This one has a particularly catchy chorus which suggests they haven’t totally left their pop credentials behind them; I could imagine that fitting in on radio if only they wouldn’t put those oh-so offensive electric guitars all over it (!)
Another ‘first’ is on ‘I Stand Alone’; this one’s actually preceded by a spoken introduction from Mille, actually stating outright that a certain person tried to split them up, mess up (or words to that effect!) their lives. She then tells the unnamed individual *exactly* what she thinks of whoever it was, before the main song kicks in. Even when it ends she hasn’t finished, all but shredding her throat with yet more anger directed at that particular miscreant! ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ has a guitar intro reminiscent of Madchester/indie, but once it kicks in it’s business as usual with the combination of savage guitar and catchy choruses, while ‘Fade To Black’ has no connection with Metallica but is built on a guitar riff that had me think of ‘Save Tonight’, for those who remember 1990s one-hit wonder Eagle-Eye Cherry!
Their albums are traditionally lengthy affairs, usually consisting of around 16 or 17 tracks but they’ve upped the ante a bit this time, presenting the album on two discs and adding two bonus songs: reworked versions of ‘One Way Street’ and ‘Sugar Gets You High’, with the verses sung in French. Although that’s actually their native language (they’re French-born although raised in SA) this is another first so far as I’m aware.
If you’re already on the Soapbox then you will like this album, it’s better-produced but it is still travelling along the ‘rebellion rock’ direction of the two albums which came before. Those who haven’t been won over yet probably won’t be with this record, it’s unapologetically as hard-hitting and as defiantly provocative as before. The record was initially released digitally but if you get along to one of their UK or European gigs from this point on they should have the CD available for you to buy and get signed, in their inimitable fashion!