In all truth, Play Like a Girl is the next Fanny LP long after the group's demise. June and Jean Millington were founding members of that ensemble, and ye olde group has been under an interesting mis-retrospective of hype from some quarters, as is this disc, so let's explore both the good and the bad of that. I've got the time, and you need a break from the standard all-encompassing "Hey, this is pretty damn good!" critiquing. And maybe I'll be able to avoid the firestorm that erupted from the Rural Rhythms label when I critiqued Mike Scott's latest in less than worshipful fashion…though, honestly, I loves me a good rhubarb regardless.
Play is indeed a solid rock and roll / mellow rock release from two women who have been in the biz since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and their history, and our sanity, deserves a bit more grounded response than the likes of what Davids Fricke and Bowie are creating. Fricke is one of those "best critics money can buy" guys (which numbers Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau and others among its disreputable coterie) and, not long ago, in Rolling Stone if I 'member correctly, he mega-hyped Rhino's Hand-Made re-issue Fanny box set as on the order of the second coming of Bach or something similar (Fricke's work is forgettable, so I purge my lobes whenever I accidentally read him, but you can probably find his tripe somewhere on the Web to verify my claim here). Fanny was gritty, sassy, accomplished, but far from inhabiting the Valhallic estate Fricke gushes about. I have all their LPs (but not that cool Rhino box with tons o' goodies, dammit!) and was especially tickled when Patti Quatro, sister to Suzi, signed up for service at the far end of the combo's career just as bro Michael was flop-diving from possible inclusion in the prog wunderkind to horrific disco embarrassment. Those were the days, hm?
If you were hip to Fanny back in the 60s, you know they were one of the first all-girl bands to be label-signed, accompanied sooner or later by Deadly Nightshade, Isis, and too few others frankly. This small "movement" eventually led into the bizarre over-the-top uber-feminist Olivia label, with which the Millingtons associated and which collapsed ingloriously, mostly due to truly wretched product, Cris Williamson one of the few exceptions (though more than one of her LPs was quite ignorable). Fanny deserved better reception than they got, but their sound was pretty much Chuck Berry based, solid, professional, entertaining (especially in the lyrics department) but by no means exceptional. Nonetheless, Bowie refers the group as "one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time"; thus, we see why he occasionally needs a little vacation in the local sanitarium. After their breakup, Nicki Barclay and June Millington both issued solo LPs. Neither went anywhere: as the saying goes, they shipped gold and returned platinum. Thus, the group and its members faded from sight and memory. The same thing happened with Terry Garthwaite and Toni Brown from the popular Joy of Cooking band.
With Play, the Fanny ensemble is reborn…minus the other two of course. At times, as in All the Children, the disc displays a strong flavor of Heart, though there's also a good deal of the less thunderous side of Joan Jett and Lita Ford dispersed here, there, and everywhere, especially in the rhythms. The ladies are looking a good deal younger than their years and appear to have the same ol' spirit while the music, while not quite as vital as in, say, Fanny's Charity Ball, is still pretty vigorous. Jean and June always had better chops and more promise than, oh, Cindy Bullens and Alice Stuart, and the ghost of their past runs strongly through this outing. June still knows her way around a lead line and peppers quite a few in the repertoire.
So, yes, this is indeed Fanny, and if you were/are a fan of the group as I am, then you can't miss it, but, no, they were by no means of status with the biggies of their heyday and still aren't—just a good, solid, middle of the road, enjoyable rock and roll outfit.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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