Peaches' "I Feel Cream"

When being outrageous is a rule, there’s a thin, blurry line between style and the outright lack of it. Where Peaches stands may be just a matter of perspective, but with her last album, I Feel Cream, she manages to prove that a makeover is possible, that trash can be dismantled to show its charming heart.

Born in Toronto as Merril Nisker, Peaches spent her thirties teaching kids drama and music by day, and juggling different musical experiments by night. She funneled her creative talents and provocative attitude into a rudimentary but innovatively naughty kind of music called Electroclash. This style eventually, thanks to a trial of exploration in Berlin, lead her to the promiscuous fame she’s been recklessly seducing ever since. In 2000, back in Toronto but sponsored by Berlin label Kitty-Yo, she recorded her first full-length release, The Teaches Of Peaches. The horny teacher moved to Berlin shortly after. It has been her base ever since. The album, blatantly sexual in its wording and aggressively catchy sound-wise, outlined the template of success for Peaches: clever musicianship, brazen thinking, and borderline manic performances. There she was, pink and barbaric, a one-of-a-kind stage wizard, an inconvenient hybrid unlikely to pass unnoticed.

Nisker kept operating in the underbelly of Electroclash for her following two albums, but she blended in clumsy guitar riffs and stripped down the synth beats to a sometimes repetitive and overly minimal grind; body parts and raunchy acts remained the thesis of her witty singing, which pumped up her image as the slick Anti-Icon. She basically sings and acts out what for most generally remain just fantasies (thank God) She teases her boy toys, but retains a certain measure of political import.

Both Fatherfucker (2003, XL) and Impeach My Bush (2006, XL) have some brilliant tracks that keep the backbone groove steady, but the rest end up sounding like over-chewed gum, which lead many to think that her overall lack of fantasy was already chronic and almost yawn-inducing…ouch.

But fear not, titty lovers, with I Feel Cream (2009, XL), Peaches actually delivers a more refined album, with an unexpected variety of tunes and moods. In fact, peeking into the production credits, besides the ever-present Chilly Gonzales, names like Simian Mobile Disco, Digitalism and Soulwax stand out and surely account for the glossier coating of this record, compared to the gritty and fleshy ones that preceded it. The support of Digitalism particularly makes itself evident in the multifaceted synth-phonia of “Mommy Complex”. But what also may surprise here is the occasional vulnerability that emerges in some tracks, as if the sassy self-confidence Peaches has kept flaunting so fiercely was finally overshadowed by a more mature consciousness and subdued attitude. Not saying she’s the next Dalai Lama, but I dare you to recognize her when she whines “I don’t wanna lose you,” over and over with a nearly Goldfrapp-esque voice while delicate sonic flakes sprinkle from above. Or when, in “Talk To Me”, she cries out in despair with a rarely heard high-pitched voice (somehow recalling La Roux’s vocal peaks), backed by an organic electro-soul beat and a soft Goth video.

The Lady is aging after all, and self-awareness is the kick for this venture into a wider range of concepts and aesthetics. However, Peaches’ footprint is still clearly visible in all songs, especially in the unbuttoned sharpness of the lyrics, best represented when she raps them out with her buttery voice.

The opening track, “Serpentine”, with its unpolished and syncopated beats is one of the most minimal features of the album: old-style but, unlike “Show Stopper” and “Take You On”, catchy and well crafted. Following “Lose You”, “More” flips the mood completely; galloping beats build in a wild crescendo, sounds whip out of the keyboards. It’s a nice, little club-oriented track to counter-balance the preceding one. We all need bipolarity.

I Feel Cream‘s bouncing loops may be reminiscent of an acid version of Booka Shade’s sound, but they don’t match with the sweetened, ethereal voice they’re topped with; overdone and overstretched, the title track ends up being one of the least credible.

Amid all this sheer electro galore, “Billionaire” stands out pointedly. Dueling with Yo Majesty’s Shunda K, Peaches sounds perfectly at ease in the ghetto and the two tough and dirty-mouthed females produce an all-around first class hip-hop anthem.

Peaches seems to have opened a crack into new scenarios. Little wonder, then, if she expresses herself more confidently in the groovy sensuality of “Relax” or in the unexpected gloominess of “Mud” than in the easy jingle “Trick Or Treat”. These new scenarios may be her next logical step. Her audience may have aged too, after all.

The impression is that, with I Feel Cream, rather than having turned page, Peaches has dragged the devious hedonism of her former days to a level where failure and confusion are also at stake, which makes the overall feeling of the album simply more human.

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