The twentieth anniversary of the Spice Girls’ debut single, “Wannabe”, came and went with surprisingly little fanfare. It was a seminal moment in music because it ushered in the “Girl Power” movement, which gave feminism a new set of ambassadors and helped advance a new “wave” (read Jennifer Keishin Armstong’s excellent article of the Spice Girls’ arrival and influence on Billboard). One such band who similarly celebrate their feminist roots are The Tuts.
At first listen, their debut LP, Update Your Brain, would seem to be just another fun, energetic, and quirky punk-pop album. Upon closer inspection, however, the London-based group’s songs are sharp, sometimes edgy, and always straight to point. Their music, in other words, is a combination of the frenetic energy of Peach Kelli Pop, the catchy melodies of The Vaselines, and the understated lyrical ferocity of Kim Gordon. They might be writing eloquent poems, but their brutal honesty is most welcome in this day and age.
Update Your Brain‘s opening track, “Let Go of the Past”, epitomizes the band’s approach. As front woman Nadia Javed sings about the end of something (likely a relationship), she immediately tells herself to move on. “There’s no point in clinging on to something that didn’t last”, she emphatically sings. “Tut Tut Tut” and the album’s final track, “Back Up”, come closest to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”, as they celebrates women’s individualism and calls for everyone, not just women, to be and express themselves.
The back-to-back singles, “Con Man” and “Dump Your Boyfriend”, deal with, as you would expect, terrible mates. The former delineates everything wrong with a previous partner, particularly his poor treatment and habitual lying. The latter, as you guess, has a straightforward message – if your boyfriend sucks, then dump him. Both are wildly entertaining, filled with terrific harmonies and some awesome guitar, bass, and drum work. Meanwhile, “You’re So Boring” offers a different take on the relationship song. At first, this melodic ballad starts off as another “get lost” track, but then there is a realization that having a mate who is boring but loyal is not so bad (wait until the three ladies get married).
But like the punk bands of the past and present, The Tuts have a strong social conscience. On “Give Us Something Worth Voting For”, they condemn the governing Conservative Party in Great Britain for their lack of vision and engagement of the people. It is unclear if the song was written and recorded after Brexit, but if it wasn’t they likely have a song about Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage somewhere on their laptop.
“What’s On The Radio?” is a criticism of mass media today. Whether it is the radio or television, people need to fit a certain image or sound to be noticed and, in turn, sacrifice their integrity. “I want to fight it! I want to fight it!”, hollers the band, echoing a refrain of many female-fronted bands from the ’80s and ’90s. Particularly, The Tuts denounce the repetitive playlists featuring the absurd number of boy bands. They also criticize the establishment for its lack of ingenuity, as Javed sings, “Who do I write for? Who do I sing for, and who am I trying to impress? I couldn’t even guess.”
So maybe The Tuts aren’t the next Spice Girls, as they’re not making music for mainstream radio. Do they even want to be? But like their predecessors, they are reminding you and me that we still need to re-wire our thinking. Even twenty years later, there is much more to be done on many fronts. With Update Your Brain, they have released an album that is more than just a fun effort (which it is), but an immensely clever and thoughtful one. It is also an emphatic statement that Girl Power is alive and well.
Pick up Update Your Brain on the band’s Bandcamp page. The Tuts are Nadia Javed (guitar/lead vocals), Beverley Ishmael (drums), and Harriet Doveton (bass/vocals).
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