Fictional Nonfiction, Justice Wing

⎇001JW: The Cheshire Kittens Discography

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Justice Wing Vignettes

As we head closer to actual content returning from Summer Vacation (otherwise known as Summer-Work-Massive-Not-Vacation), here’s a couple of things from the Patreon connected to the Cheshire Kittens. First up — a discography!

As of this writing, the Cheshire Kittens have had twelve albums, two live albums (one a double-album) and one box set compilation. For those trying to place these albums in the Justice Wing timeline — they bridge the transition from Justice Wing: Halcyon Days through Justice Wing: Apocalypse Agenda and finally to Justice Wing: In Nadir. To be more specific — the albums from Cheshire Kittens through Dark After Grey are released before the Apocalypse Agenda, and Just a Sling and beyond are released after it. Just a Sling is released at about the same time as Todd Chapman’s article “Interviewing Leather.”

Before their first album as the Cheshire Kittens, G-Listening and Zephyr Lish released some EPs as ‘Litterkin,’ with Esther Jowls and Allons-Zed playing on the last EP they released that way. None of these are considered albums by the band, though actual copies of the EPs are collectors’ items.

  • Cheshire Kittens: An album put together to sell after gigs and to act as a demo. As you can probably imagine, this is an extremely rough (and pretty rare) album. Put together on a shoestring and sounds it. The Kittens get pretty embarrassed when ‘Enough Porpoises’ or ‘Dead Dong the Witch is Ding’ gets pulled out around them. ‘Ditchdigger Supreme’ is rough but shows their later promise, and got a reworking for their box set. “Knock at the Door” was re-released on Roundup.
    • Antagony
    • Knock at the Door
    • No Means Fuck
    • Enough Porpoises
    • Ditchdigger Supreme
    • I Keep It Now
    • Clock-Knocker
    • Dead Dong the Witch is Ding
  • Roundup: The first proper Cheshire Kittens album. Roundup includes a few songs from Cheshire Kittens redone in a proper studio setting. The first album on the X-F-G label and the first work by the band with Cosette Wight being credited in a production and management role.. Often forgotten about — many people think Transparent was the first Cheshire Kittens album. However, ‘Knock At The Door’ is considered one of the most chilling songs G-Listening has written, and most of the Kittens have affection for ‘Fuck You Uncle Ben,’ which got a reworking for the Box Set.
    • Who Said What?
    • Knock at the Door
    • Antagony
    • Polluted Marrow
    • Thank You For Slitting
    • Watercress and Nails
    • You Haven’t Done
    • Fuck You Uncle Ben
  • Transparent: (Grammy: Best Rock Album) The breakthrough album for the Cheshire Kittens, and still considered by many to be their best. The monster hit was ‘Transparent,’ but several other songs — ‘Between Ticks,’ ‘Another Basket of Bread’ and ‘Acrid Bikini’ in particular — perennially make critics’ lists. Certified Double-Platinum.
    • Transparent (Grammies: Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance)
    • Sharp Disgrace
    • Innuendoed
    • Between Ticks
    • Nail Gun Sitting Fine
    • Bitterness and Harmony
    • Another Basket of Bread
    • National Lifeline
    • Acrid Bikini
  • Dark after Grey (Grammy: Album of the Year (Strong/Lish, Zed, Wight)) Considered a more than solid second release, including the coveted Album of the Year and Song of the Year Grammies. ‘Quarterhorse’ was the first major song by Allon-Zed, and featured a complexity of style lacking in other Kittens’ work. The album itself is considered a masterwork of technical production, and was the first point where Cozy Tight’s efforts were being recognized.The Kittens were touring in support of this album when they played the now-legendary Thunderfest where they were attacked and injured on stage but insisted on finishing their set before hospitalization. Bootleg videos of the attack and the set have circulated on the internet for years. The first song they launched into after the attack was ‘Quarterhouse.’ Some feel this may have influenced the Recording Academy unduly.

    There was pressure from X-F-G label executives to ‘include a love song’ and ‘add sexy’ to the album. This turned into the sardonic ‘That Guy – He Ain’t Bad’ and ‘What-Fucking-Ever.’ Tensions over label pressures and pressures from their managing agency (Endeavor) boiled over, and Cosette ‘Cozy Tight’ Wight successfully both got them released from their contracts with creative control and countersued Endeavor into bankruptcy.

    • Quarterhorse (Grammy: Song of the Year (Allon-Zed)
    • Serrated Melancholy
    • Parasitic Grief
    • Immortalation
    • Reluctant Exultation
    • Stations of the Crosswalk
    • That Guy – He Ain’t Bad
    • Persistent Overquality
    • Letter to the Officer Assigned to my Case (Grammy Nomination: Best Rock Song (Strong/Lish))
    • What-fucking-ever
  • Reluctant Exultation: The Cheshire Kittens Live: A live album recorded over the course of the tour in support of the Dark After Grey album. Features a performance of “Acrid Bikini” from the Thunderfest that happened just before the Vicars rushed the stage shooting at (and successfully shooting) the Cheshire Kittens, with a few screams and obscenities marking that attack before the audio cuts off and the new (studio) song “Kiss of the .38” plays. That song has not to this date been performed live, and is considered unnerving at best, though that helped propel the album to double-platinum.
    • Kiss of the .38
  • Just a Sling: A more directly political album, with the title track (‘Just a Sling’) taking on the concept of Justice Wing and heroes more directly. Having been a founding act on Metal Wings and with control over their music, more experimental work found its way onto the album, including ‘Queenfisher” and ‘The Air Up Here.” The almost plaintive “I Like Christmas Too,” a song about exclusion during a time of the year meant to be inclusive, topped many critics’ best-of lists that year. Its lack of consideration at the Grammys was considered an intentional snub of Cozy Tight and Metal Wings, which ironically led to a backlash and increased sales.
    • Just a Sling
    • Firehouse Sale
    • How Does That Work?
    • Suffocation Yearning
    • Tasting Midnight
    • The Air Up Here
    • Burn Down Lake Woebegone
    • Queenfisher
    • I Like Christmas Too
    • Mordant Whisper
  • Ghosts: A more symphonic and lush album, with orchestration added to several pieces. Many Kittens fans didn’t care for this direction, but several songs were still very well received, with “Dear Mother Why?”, “Poor Mister Nickelsworth,” and especially “(It All Comes Back to) Underwear” hitting big. The last in particular was well received as a balance of the Kittens’ core message, their musicality, and a sense of both fun and pathos — the practical side of being a parahuman, with all the little annoyances, played for laughs but culminating in a bleak total: at the end of the day, it’s hard to buy underwear that won’t catch fire or tear or get torn off at mach two, after all.
    • I Never Explained
    • Dear Mother Why?
    • Echoes of Myth
    • Les Bons Légumes
    • Butterflew
    • Evening Chapel
    • Rainwashed Gully
    • What My Eyes See
    • (It All Comes Back to) Underwear (Grammy Nominated: Rock Song of the Year, Song of the Year)
    • Poor Mister Nickelsworth
    • Mumsuch
  • Unmarked Grave: The Kittens’ harshest sounding album to date, with deathcore and death metal overtones and far heavier sound. A strong departure from earlier albums — especially Ghosts. Several of the songs hit the top ten — including “Side of the Badge,” which was the first time a song written by Esther Jowls charted that high. The smash hit of the album was “Sadistic,” which is considered possibly the best song G-Listening/Zephyr Lish have ever written. Despite the almost nihilistic overtones of the rest of the album, many Kittens fans have a special love for “Drillbit P Gets To Sing Solo On This One,” a flat out comedy song poking fun at the recurring complaint that the bassist only rarely gets to sing lead.
    • Side of the Badge
    • Carcinoma
    • Atrocity Plus Gold Star
    • What Is It About Me?
    • Sadistic
    • Funereal Thunder
    • Drillbit P Gets To Sing Solo On This One
    • Proprietary Tits, Motherfucker
    • Thread the Shared Needle
    • Faking the Effort
  • Angrier Than Wet: There was some concern that the Cheshire Kittens were going in decline — the heavy sound of Unmarked Grave had worried some, and Allon-Zed deciding to move away from keyboard to rhythm guitar and the choice of the band not to hire a studio keyboardist but actually add a sixth Cheshire Kitten worried fans. MTV built up a significant amount of media attention to ‘the search for the next Cheshire Kitten,’ which ended up fizzling badly when the Kittens hired Aileen Pyre at the very first audition in Grantham. As it worked out, this became the best selling Cheshire Kittens album since Transparent, as well as the album that won the highest accolades. This is in large part thanks to the intensely personal feel for “Paragirl Down,” the dirge played for the heroine’s sacrifice and last words in the Apocalypse Agenda. This also marked the first actual Grammy nomination for one of Esther Jowls’s song — the harsh “Eight of Swords.” This album also featured the first actual Bonus track on a Cheshire Kittens album — “Hazing the New Chick (Come On Eileen),” a fairly straight cover of the 1982 Dexys Midnight Runners Celtic/New Wave song, featuring Aileen Pyre and Zephyr Lish on fiddle, then Zephyr Lish on banjo, Allon-Zed on keyboard, Aileen Pyre on accordion, and all the kittens alternating lines, with the most embarrassing lyrics thrown to Pyre. There is a lot of laughter and swearing and it’s just considered fun.While posters, tee shirts and other merchandise had been part of the Cheshire Kittens all along, the release of Angrier than Wet had an actual best selling poster of the Kittens, soaking wet, standing next to a pool and looking unhappy about it. While the poster sold well and it has become one of the iconic images of the Kittens, it was frowned upon by some critics and — it is said — even some band members.
    • Unfortunate Teller
    • Eight of Swords
    • Paragirl Down
    • Stars-and-Chevrons
    • Oscar Was Right!
    • Fuckable Rommie, Fuckable Trace
    • Omniscience (Abridged)
    • Hazing the New Chick (Come On Aileen)
    • From Zero to Cunt in One Rejection
  • Denunciation: A relatively long gap between Angrier Than Wet and Denunciation fueled anticipation which was largely felt rewarded. This strong selling album inspired some controversy among certain Christian advocacy groups — the Kittens’ music had been condemned by some of these groups before, which led to the album title and title song “Denunciation.” Some groups loudly decried “Jesus Christ Need Not Apply” and “Chainpreyed” as anti-Christian, though the former was actually more about how more and more expressed parahumans were ‘encouraged not to apply’ for work, suggesting that if Christ returned, his ability to perform miracles would disqualify him for work as a carpenter in some states. As for “Chainpreyed,” the song was autobiographical on Esther Jowls’s part, detailing abuse she suffered at her parents’ hands, and those groups that had condemned it (which, as with “Jesus Christ Need Not Apply” clearly hadn’t listened to the song) suffered a significant backlash as a result.It came as a surprise to many observers that the album received no major nominations. A much broader movement to investigate the Recording Academy’s practices and perceived bias against Cozy Tight’s produced albums gained significant momentum.
    • Holding Back Hope
    • Whispervine
    • Snitches Get Gone
    • Denunciation
    • Jesus Christ Need Not Apply
    • Daedalus (Had No Choice)
    • Status Quota
    • Nero Was a Fiddlin’ Man
    • Nightwatchdog
    • Chainpreyed
    • Get Your Own Damn Beer
  • The Grey Album (officially the second album with just ‘Cheshire Kittens’ on the cover) A concept album with alternating structures and a building sense of entwined stories. While it is still highly regarded among critics, and it sold exceedingly well, it was the first album since Ghosts to not go double-platinum. While its musicality was praised, its lack of a breakout single, its sense of uniformity, and its lack of one or two lighter, more ‘fun’ songs turned many of the Kittens’ fans away. As with Denunciation it received no significant nominations, but not many thought it would. Many feel this is the weakest album in the Kittens’ library to date.
    • Informancy
    • Grasstains
    • Immediacy
    • Spectacles
    • Inerrancy
    • Noodlebricks
    • Irrelevancy
    • Paperclips
    • Illegitimacy
    • Cartridges
  • The Cheshire Kittens Vol I. Where Have You Been Young Lady? (Box Set) A box set covering the years to date for the Kittens. It is most notable for its comprehensive coverage of each phase of their career, the first availability of songs like “No Means Fuck,” “Clock-Knockers,” and “I Keep It Now” (a song where a female protagonist warns a creepy molester that ‘whatever touches me I keep,’ then proceeds to hack away the bits of his body that broke the rule), and new and remastered versions of “Ditchdigger Supreme” (thought by many to have potentially been the breakout that “Transparent” was if the two had been reversed) and “Fuck You Uncle Ben” (with a new section about the comic book character’s wife). There had been one of the periodic movements to force or shame parahumans into more ‘superhero’ type roles, with an old comic book phrase used to justify this pressure. The song features the lines “You talk about great power but this power ain’t that great,” and “you got the power to work soup kitchens grab a ladle and a plate!” Finally, the box set includes the brand new “The Garfield Conspiracy,” which applies some of the more outlandish conspiracies surrounding the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations to the 1881 assassination of President James Garfield. Though the music is a driving punk beat, the song itself is spoken word, with each Kitten ranting about the increasingly ludicrous conspiracy in turn, while getting louder and more crazed, before the whole thing ends with a gunshot and ‘James Garfield’ telling them he needs to get some sleep. It is notable that despite her disdain for some of the lighter songs the Kittens produced, “The Garfield Conspiracy” is one of Esther Jowls’s favorite songs. It is somewhat surprising that “Kiss of the .38” was not included, as it only appeared previously on the otherwise live album. Reluctant Exultation: The Cheshire Kittens Live.
    • Contains a number of songs from the previous 10 albums, plus the following:
      • Ditchdigger Supreme (new arrangement/version)
      • Fuck You Uncle Ben (and Aunt May’s a Bitch) (update of original)
      • The Garfield Conspiracy
  • Pedigree: (Grammy: Rock Album of the Year) Seen as a return to form for the Kittens, Pedigree was both reviewed highly and very popular with fans. The bittersweet ‘Annotations’ was the breakout hit of the album, and led to the return of the Kittens to the Grammies. ‘Number of the Fist’ and ‘The Taste of Maple and Ash’ were both highly regarded, and the pop-punk fast paced and cheerful ‘Penny Prestige (doesn’t like your tee shirt),’ detailing all the ways the popular comic book character hated the unnamed guy the song is castigating felt to many like the bright spot on the album that hadn’t always been showing up.
    • What Child?
    • Number of the Fist
    • Watching Me
    • Condensation
    • Another Pleased Sir
    • Annotations (Grammy: Rock Song of the Year, Rock Performance of the Year)
    • Nothin’ to Do
    • Happy to See Me
    • Liken/Lichen
    • The Taste of Maple and Ash
    • Penny Prestige (doesn’t like your tee shirt)
  • Penny Prestige (doesn’t like your tee shirt) and other observations live: (double album) The second Cheshire Kittens’ Live album, built off of the momentum of Pedigree and including live performances from across their career. Notably includes the live “Acrid Bikini” performance from Reluctant Exultation: The Cheshire Kittens Live, as a bonus track, including the same cut right at the point of the Vicars’ attack, but instead of moving into “Kiss of the .38,” it plays the sound of a scratched record (with no actual audio) while an actual radio broadcast reporting on the shooting murder of Lana Clarkson in a mansion belonging to record producer Phil Spector can be heard. (Spector was later charged and convicted of Clarkson’s murder). The report goes into some detail, but cuts off at the exact length of “Kiss of the .38.”
  • Dire: A well selling, well received album with a grammy nominated song and a good amount of experimentation, there was still a sense that Dire was a bit of a retread. While songs like ‘Gaslight Ignition’ and ‘Understandably Blue’ were considered absolute classics of the Kittens’ work, other songs like ‘Then Frank Said’ and ‘Asbestos Merkin For Sale (never worn)’ didn’t engage as much as the Kittens had hoped. On the other hand, the bluesy, almost ska overtoned ‘Miss Match and Captain H,’ about a hero and villain who start to have an affair became very popular, very fast.Still, there was enough feeling of letdown, despite the album going double-platinum, that writing the next album proved to be challenging. Tensions in the band — particularly between Esther Jowls and Zephyr Lish — reached the boiling point in the months that followed.
    • Ma’am of the Hour
    • Dire
    • Furlongs per Fortnight
    • Then Frank Said
    • Searching the Sky
    • Understandably Blue
    • Asbestos Merkin For Sale (never worn)
    • Keyakizaka46 (can kick your ass)
    • White Collar Vampire
    • Gaslight Ignition
    • Miss Match and Captain H
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3 thoughts on “⎇001JW: The Cheshire Kittens Discography”

  1. There’s not a lot of notes to go with a post that’s almost entirely background notes to begin with, but what the heck? I’m incapable of just letting these things pass by.

    I tried hard to create a creative ‘arc’ with the albums, peppered here and there with live albums and the boxed set. For most acts that have managed to be perennial sellers, one of two things happens. Either you reach a certain point where your creative output stagnates and you essentially become a nostalgia act without intending for that to happen, or you continually reinvent yourself. Madonna and Cher endured because Madonna and Cher didn’t just remake their look — they re-revolutionized their music over and over again. It’s kind of astounding. Consider how much influence “Believe” had on popular music (as a hint — consider the use of autotune as a stylistic point. Was Cher first? No. Was she biggest early on? Heck yeah. They literally called it the Cher effect for years). That happened in 1998 — Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” hit number one on the charts in 1965. You know who didn’t pull a monster hit off thirty three years after their first number one hit? The fucking Rolling Stones..

    So in order to create a band that had that kind of decades spanning power by definition into the modern era, their music had to evolve from rough beginnings and continually experiment.

    The other thing to consider is what’s being left behind by this. The history of ⎇001JW isn’t ours, obviously. However, as popular as a lot of Riot Grrls and post-punk acts have been? The perennial acts are either heavily produced or R&B and Hip Hop influenced, rather than being influenced by punk or rock. The Cheshire Kittens are perhaps the hottest act in this universe — at least over time — which implies that moving into the Youtube era a lot more hard rock acts get a lot more views in this universe. While the article implies that Hip Hop, Rap and R&B — unquestionably the dominant popular musical forms so far in the 21st century — exist, they have a competitor. That has an impact on a lot of things.

    I mentioned J-Pop in my notes on the Kitten House Rules article — and more to the point, Idol Systems/Agencies/Managers. In a lot of ways, Cozy Tight oversees the Kittens the way an agency oversees a band like SCANDAL in Japan — and hard rock has both lasted way longer as a dominant force in Japan and a lot of acts have lasted decades there as well. There’s a lot of ways where Japan of the 2010s feels like America in the 1980s, musically — there is that overwhelming sense of music’s importance to Japanese culture, and that broad range of genres, without the fragmentation of audience that American music’s seen. It’s just how it is.

    Cheshire Kittens: The debut album the Kittens put out is, not to put too fine a point on it, total crap. It was done essentially by nobodies without a deal or much editing. Admittedly, in the 1990s I lived in Seattle, which at the time was the ruling capital of worldwide current music, and that kind of thing was everywhere. I went to my fair share of vinyl release parties for bands that did absolutely fucking nothing moving forward. As a side note? Those parties are a lot of fun. The songs on this album are supposed to be stupid and derivative. The major ‘transgressive’ track involves dismemberment as feminist allegory and isn’t supposed to work. The two songs that are rough but show signs of greatness — “Knock at the Door” and “Ditchdigger Supreme” — are literally about the most painful facts of life for two Santa Domingo parahuman teenagers, and that rawness gave Cozy something she could see in these kids with the loud noise and zero subtlety. And seriously, none of the Kittens want to be reminded of “Enough Porpoises.”

    Roundup: The first album put out by a label with a producer — and the producer is Cozy Tight whose superpowers make her absurdly good at it. The degree to which she’s responsible for their success is hard to overestimate. As a result, it has the better version of “Knock at the Door,” refining the rawness of Tabby’s experiences with musicality but not blunting it. Also, we have the rare sighting of a ‘real world’ comic book character with “Fuck You Uncle Ben,” implying that in the 60s Marvel did make a go of it, but didn’t last. However, that means the “Great Power/Great Responsibility” thing is a known trope, and it’s exactly the kind of thing the Kittens would call bullshit on. Beyond that, I shot mostly for ‘clever’ titles and ’90s alternative rock by women’ in the titles. Lotta Liz Phair and that kinda thing.

    Transparent: The song ‘Transparent’ was the first thing I came up with out of all this, decades ago, and ultimately led to me coming up with the name ‘Cheshire Kittens.’ While at this point in the timeline it’s hard to overly match up our history with theirs? This is the sharpest point of divergence between American music in Justice Wing versus our music. This album had massive appeal. This also was the first album to really highlight differing personalities. “Transparent” pushed Tabby’s anger at being prejudged. “Between Ticks” was about the joy Zephyr took in her powers. “Another Basket of Bread” is a song about universal awkwardness and embarrassment. “National Lifeline” is political and blunt on the level of a Bad Religion song — Esther didn’t write it but it was one she liked. And “Acrid Bikini” is super-fast surf music with a punk beat. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Cheshire Kittens.

    Dark after Grey: First off, no clue what the title means. Secondly, this was the first significant ‘growing up as musicians’ album, which is why Allons-Zed’s most famous song comes from this one. It’s also the studio interference album, which is where stuff like “That Guy — He Ain’t Bad” and “What-Fucking-Ever” came from, as they pushed against it. Beyond that… it continues to balance ‘smart’ off of ‘clever’ in the titles. Something like “Reluctant Exultation” could be a kick ass hard rock song. “Stations of the Crosswalk” is going to sound twee no matter what you do.

    Reluctant Exultation: The Cheshire Kittens Live: Bands have live albums. They just do. I’ve honestly underestimated heavily by only giving the Kittens two, because live albums are easy to come up with and relatively simple money. In this case, the Thunderfest incident guarantees that people would buy it — most live albums (not all, but most) don’t go double-platinum. But, given the placement of “Acrid Bikini” as the song just before the Kittens get shot, they’re playing into it without going too overboard. There aren’t gunshots on the album, for example. And… I admit I got really interested in the story of the song “Kiss by a .38,” which they effectively never play again or put on later albums after this.

    Just a Sling: In the original Superguyish world where this stuff happened, there was a song by a different act called “Unimpeachable” which was about the ALU — my Superguy hero team — set as oppressor instead of liberator. This slides into place there, and becomes one of the big popular music moments to go against Justice Wing. The world is changing, as Cozy says in the article. This album hit big at about the moment Todd Chapman was kidnapped by Leather for an Interview — so this is the pulse of the world just before villainy gets redefined. Also, I came up with “Burn Down Lake Woebegone” long before Garrison Keillor’s fall from grace. Beyond that, the songs are again meant to highlight their issues and their personalities — and musical evolution. Keeping them fresh and in the mind’s eye. And the fact that it wasn’t nominated for awards… and that became the major issue of that awards season… well, that certainly refocused popular interest on this band that was no longer novel, didn’t it? I’m not saying Cozy used her communications-abilities to push the conversation in a way that remade the relevance of the Kittens — oh, wait. No, that is what I’m saying.

    More in a bit!

    1. Ghosts again underscores the evolution of the Kittens and their sound — with this one being somewhat less well received (although still a success). “Poor Mister Nickelsworth” only works in context if either Batman as a character was way more popular than I’ve implied or that my own Trashman from Superguy (who had a butler named Nickelsworth because I was all about subtlety) is. Or it’s about something else. This is where we see some different but more buried aspects of the Kittens’ past coming out, too. “Dear Mother Why?” was about the abuse Zephyr and her sister endured, for example — but it was also about the abuse Esther suffered. The two’s mutual animosity might have something to do with their similarities. Also, I threw in a reference to a Quebec children’s show, because the song in question is pure awesome and I wanted the Kittens cheerfully singing about vegetables in a Quebecois version of French in their stage show. “Echoes of Myth” is an oblique reference to Bitty P, who doesn’t get enough of those. It got two Grammy nominations, both for a song about how hard it was for parahumans to get durable underwear. There is way more than a little “nominate the underwear song because people were pissed we didn’t nominate “I Like Christmas Too” off the last album” going on, too.

      Unmarked Grave: Another major musical shift for the Kittens, going hard into metal and deathcore overtones, which pushed them heavily into the top ten. Includes a song that a lot of people claim is the best one that Tabby and Zephyr ever wrote — “Sadistic.” It also includes an Esther Jowls song — “Side of the Badge” — that the Kittens really like. And it includes a pure novelty song meant to be fun and shouty in “Drillbit P Gets To Sing Solo On This One,” and leads to the beginning of the more humorous songs getting more of a push on the albums moving forward — which means the tensions between the band members are growing in the background. Also — note that they got no nominations for this album, even though it has the song a large number of people are pretty sure is the best one their principal songwriters ever wrote… but there’s no controversy around that omission. Almost like that’s played out, and the change of sound confused older fans.

      Angrier Than Wet: Given that “Transparent” is the perennial breakout monster hit of the Kittens, Angrier Than Wet is the breakout monster album and the reinvention of the Kittens for a new decade. They radically shift their sound — Allons-Zed is a pure musician who moves to rhythm guitar, which implies suddenly their sound’s going to have a ton more texture, and Pyre is a pure musician who’s way broader in her scope than even Allons-Zed. They radically shift their look — the album cover is overtly sexual and intense. But it’s not just sexy girls who are soaking wet and that’s sexy — they’re angry at the same time — a sexualization of their anger and frustration, which pisses Esther off after she gets a chance to think about it and see how it worked… but is a massive step towards making them capable of a howl of frustration and rage and having that add to their mainstream appeal. That’s clearly a Cozy Tight move. The songs focus on sacrifice and foreboding — the death of Paragirl, the breaking of Dynamo Girl and rise of Leather, et al. But they also have a transgressive song about what happens when a woman declines a man’s generous offer to take her on a date to the moving pictures and then bring her to bonetown and she instantly becomes horrible. Not a subtle message or a new one, but this one is theirs. And they have a comedic song which also introduces their new band member and the change. Also, there’s a song that buys into Oscar the Grouch’s worldview and another song about how the studio forced Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda to change in an entirely appropriate and sensitive way by reworking two of its major female characters to appear more sexually accessible. Because I am a nerd, that’s why. And so, for that matter, are a number of the Kittens. Note once again — the biggest album they ever had, but nothing at the Grammies. Why? Because the Grammies wouldn’t give them anything at this point. This was also the heavily merchandised album, and it was a long while before another one came out, so if you’re wondering what merch is available at Target? This album’s probably got it. Note too that where earlier huge or acclaimed songs were intensely personal — “Transparent,” “Knock at the Door,” “Letter to the Officer Assigned to my Case,” “Quarterhorse,” and the like… this album’s big songs are societal. It’s not about Tabby, Zeph, Esther, Bitty P, Allons-Zed, and new bonus Pyre — it’s about Paragirl, and Leather, and things everyone can understand and deal with.

      Denunciation: Having had a long gap and a couple of moves away from things, Denunciation is a course correction. Not because they had problems before — Angrier Than Wet was their biggest hit album — but because the evolution of Madonna and Cher only counts if they’re still recognizable as Madonna and Cher. You have to hit some of the old points or you lose connection to your core fanbase. Cozy is clearly playing a long game. This also was overtly courting controversy even as it moved back to intensely personal songs. “Chainpreying” about one of the most traumatic experiences of Esther’s life — which was also Pyre’s big chance to contribute as a writer/composer. “Denunciation” about their being decried by the religious right and their old longtime fans. “Jesus Christ Need Not Apply” reinforcing their core message of the unfairness of the gifted being denied the chance to use their gifts productively. Et cetera. It left out bait which the Christian community took, which added to street cred (and helped fight the accusations of selling out) Also? A new Grammy controversy came out of this one when nothing was nominated, even though nothing was nominated on the previous — better selling and critically acclaimed — album. Which implies that was an intentional move and/or trap being laid.

      The Grey Album: And then there was the concept album. What was the concept? Fuck if I know. Does it matter? It’s ‘the concept album.’ Sooner or later, you gotta let them do it. And hey, maybe it’ll manage to be “Tommy” or “Operation: Mindcrime.” But more likely, at best, you’ll have Kilroy Was Here. Note that the Grey Album comes up a lot in the favorites of the Kittens. Sometimes you gotta put out an album for yourself, right? All right — I do admit I’m personally curious about “Noodlebricks.”

      The Cheshire Kittens Vol I. Where Have You Been Young Lady? When you’ve done the Concept Album and lost ground in the reinvention/rebuilding process? You wait a bit, tour a little, and put out the Box Set. Remind people why they like you. Give new fans a jumping on point for your Big Hits™. And give some songs a new chance on life, like “Ditchdigger Supreme” and “Fuck You Uncle Ben (and Aunt May’s a Bitch)” which adds a whole new slice of hate for that comics family. It also goes back in on the fun — this time with one that literally all the Kittens really love in “The Garfield Conspiracy.” I suspect “The Garfield Conspiracy,” beyond its place in the Doctor Demento show of this universe, is another one of those songs that the Kittens like more than their fans, but it becomes a cornerstone of their live concerts — with lots of new crazy theories thrown in at each show — and that’s beloved by all except that one guy who hates him. Man, fuck that guy. Don’t be that guy.

      Pedigree: Evolution takes time, and sometimes you have to move back to move forward. That said, here was an album that was a ‘return to form’ for the Kittens… except this was an album that won three Grammys and almost everyone who hated The Grey Album loved this one… but the songs seem way more like Denunciation era Kittens than Transparent era Kittens. Plus it had the funny novelty song (Penny Prestige, as I’ve said before, is the ⎇001JW version of the public domain (but still trademarked) Mary Marvel from our own comics in our own universe). And the major Grammy award winning song off the album — “Annotations,” which admittedly is a reference back to… um… myself… is at best remembered as an afterthought. We’re kind of reaching that point where the album may be loved and cherished and then the fans still don’t remember anything past, say, Angrier Than Wet. Which is a warning sign for bands.

      Penny Prestige (doesn’t like your tee shirt) and other observations live: Live albums happen. Live double-albums happen. This makes them some money and gets people to buy the same songs all over again, because this time the sound fidelity is worse and there’s crowd noise. (I say that — my favorite Zevon album’s a live album and my favorite Boingo album’s a live album, so whatever, man). The inclusion of “Acrid Bikini” off the previous live album but instead of bringing back “Kiss From The .38” it includes a vintage radio report on a woman murdered with a handgun. A murder, I would add, that happened in our world too. I’ve refered to the Phil Spector case before — back in “Interviewing Leather,” Darkhood puts a broadhead arrow into a photo of Spector and Chapman’s editor shaking hands, because fuck Phil Spector. This is more intense for the Kittens, because they were literally victims of handgun violence. Further, the song they only had on the previous live album was “Kiss From The .38,” and as it turns out? Spector claimed that Clarkson’s death was accidental suicide when she ‘kissed the gun.’ Which was a .38 caliber Colt.

      I did not know this when I named “Kiss from a .38.” I didn’t know this until I literally rechecked research on the second album’s Clarkson murder reference. That said, if this all happened the same way in ⎇001JW, Clarkson would have died well after the Thunderfest incident… which makes this the kind of comment the Kittens would be even more likely to make. So why did they do it? Because they all lived and Lana Clarkson died, and people shouldn’t forget when that happens.

      Dire: An upswing, with both evolution and ‘classic’ feel, but a sense that it was covering old ground. Another dangerous sign for the band, really. “Furlongs per Fortnight” refers to the old Møøse Illuminati basic unit of speed. “Then Frank Said” is a stealth reference to my brother Frank. “Keyakizaka46 (can kick your ass)” is a reference to a current J-Pop idol group who can indeed kick your ass, and my ass, and all the asses. “White Collar Vampire” is a vague reference to Gary W. Olson’s Chalandra Harkness, because why not? And “Miss Match and Captain H” is both a different and new sound for the Kittens — and one Pyre, the future of the group, is largely responsible for — and the light, fun song. It’s also an obvious reference to Brad Guigar’sEvil Inc.

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