In March of '97 I attended the event that would change my life. I saw Sarge perform at the nearly rained out KTRU Outdoor Show. Before this I had definitely been interested in music and messed about with bands that were more ideas than anything else. But while watching Elizabeth Elmore front Sarge, it hit me..."I can do this." From that point I took my musical aspirations much more seriously. Though it took awhile to find my first solid band, I've been finding my greatest happiness in playing and writing music ever since. (And just a side note, my band nailed down perhaps the BEST song I have ever been a part of in my whole "career" as a musician. I. Am. Stoked.) As all things tend to move in circles, it was March 19, 2000 that Elizabeth Elmore on a solo tour between the break up of Sarge and formation of The Reputation played her Houston show in my parents garage apartment (we called it Club Last Chance, if you couldn't find a place for a show it was your last chance). My band London Girl opened for her. I played my ass off that night. And when Elmore took the "stage" she thanked us and said "Did you see April? Man! She's got chops!" Be still my rock & roll heart.
Sarge were from Champaign, Ill. and were fronted by the absolutely enchanting Elizabeth Elmore. And as much as I hate to make a distinction between male and female musicians, i must point out that Elmore is an undeniable inspiration as a front person, songwriter and musician. At her worst she keeps pace with all the "boys in bands with all these egos out of hand", and at her best leaves them miles behind in the dust.
The Glass Intact was Sarge's second album and a bit of a breakthrough being named in Spin's top 20 of 1998. It is definitely in my top 20 of all time, maybe higher.
Sarge are too tough to really bear comparisons to bands like Cub and Wolfie (who's Joe Ziemba wrote "Put in the Reel") and far too sweet to be lumped in with Sleater-Kinney or Bratmobile...and with the exception of "Fast Girls", far too boy crazy to likened to Team Dresch.
When girls kiss all the boys they're called sluts, when guys do it they get high fives. This album is the sound of shattering that double standard.
If you were to believe the subject matter of most of these songs, it would seem that despite all of her wonderful qualities, Elmore tends to attract the most heartless and insensitive of men...who she relentlessly identifies, and perhaps more appropriately, as "boys". She struggles to maintain her identity in the shadow of these boys who are almost always in bands. But for all the heartbreaks, Elmore always remains golden. After all, for every boy that "doesn't see the light", there are 10 more watching adoringly from the audience.
"Stall" finds Elmore searching for resolution in a nice relationship in which she doesn't have much passion. She resigns herself to "pray that things will die okay" after trying to give up, which the boy in question just would not have.
Elmore doesn't only write of her own personal conflicts, in "A Torch" she sings of a rape victim finding empowerment through arson. She celebrates these actions with reverence.
In "Beguiling" Elmore is bored with her boyfriend's insincerity. She finds herself torn between physical attraction and emotional repulsion. By the song's end she has still not made her choice. The down-tempo "Charms and Feigns" takes the previous song's weighing of pros and cons in a more solemn direction, only this time it's for the benefit of another. She has "been there before with him" she reveals as she addresses a friend who was "just another girl for that night". She may have been around the block, but she'll be there for you when you need her.
While "Beguiling" is a surefire rocker, for me it comes in second to the beautiful and powerful "Half as Far". In this song, Elmore is facing the reality that the one she loves really doesn't have what she needs. She mournfully examines the things that bring her comfort, listening to his breath as she watches him sleep. And she sees she's "not being fair" and that she doesn't "want to waste your time", adding "it's not that you're a waste of mine". As full as this song is, it fills the listener with the emptiness of falling out of love.
The album picks back up with "I Took You Driving". Elmore guards her heart against the charms of a boy from her past who's "only looking for one thing". Once again she must make the distinction between her physical attraction and her desire for emotional connection. She's "not so sure this boy is it" so she turns the tables on him. She admits her distaste for him, yet urges him to call next time he's in town.
Elmore is more reverent of her female subjects and this none more apparent than on "Fast Girls". She meets a girl at a "Madison punk rock show" who possesses all of the qualities that her male suitors lack. In fact, she has "their weaknesses down pat". But on her way back to Champaign she is left regretting that she couldn't find the words to express her feelings...when she should have been thinking of her boyfriend.
Album closer "To Keep You Trained" sums up the broarder theme of the album that no matter how much the music itself attests to Elmore's strength, boys will always be "every mistake [she] ever made'.
This is one of my all time favorite albums, a "desert island" album if you will. Try it out and if it's like that for you, you can buy it through The Reputation's (her current band) website,(link below).
Hear it HERE.