#12. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The story of Christopher Owens, the man behind Girls, is not a usual one. Growing up as a member of Children of God cult, Owens was not allowed to listen to any music. Because of this, Owens says that his music is “an overflow of expression.”
That statement definitely applied to Girls’ first LP, Album, which came out in 2009. Songs like “Lust for Life”, “Big Bad Motherfucker”, and “Hellhole Ratrace” were classic ballads in form but not in substance. On Album, Owens tested his listeners’ boundaries through exploring themes like god, homosexuality, human psychology, and people’s relationships with one another. The juxtaposition of such themes with ballad-style composition was very effective – the whole album was an ironic, thought-provoking statement.
Girls’ second album, named Father, Son, Holy Ghost builds on the themes from Album. But at the same time, Father is so good it leaves the very excellent Album in the dust. It is incredible how much more prolific and creative Owens has become in his music. To begin with, the new album is much more musically full than its predecessor. On top of the familiar and easy electric guitar chords, Owens has added percussion, bass, and many more guitars. At times, like during “Die” and “Vomit,” Girls sound more like early Smashing Pumpkins or even Nirvana. At other times, Girls draw on almost cheesy alt-rock and gospel influences. The hooks and sha-la-las in “Honey Bunny” and “Magic” are almost juvenile; they are reminiscent of the breezy radio soft-rock enjoyed in junior high. At other times still, like during “Forgiveness”, the formula is simple: it’s Owens, an acoustic, and not much more.
What permeates through the entire album is the heaviness, darkness, and tension which Owens is able to create through what seems like any musical medium. And yet this tension is often competing with themes of love, hope, and forgiveness. “Vomit” is the standout track in this regard. The song is reportedly inspired by Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.” Throughout almost the whole song, Owens sings just three short lines:
Nights I spent alone,
I spent ‘em running around looking for you, baby…
Looking for love.
The tension builds as Owens repeats those lines, and then suddenly, with about a minute to go, there is light and rapture and the whole mood of the song just changes. Owens begins singing a single phrase – “Come into my heart”. A gospel singer joins in the background. There is freedom; a burden lifted. How did this song appear daunting only minutes ago? But then you think about it – you really think about it – and suddenly you get the joke. At the end, is Owens trying to say that he finally broke out of the fool’s cycle? Or is he saying that, like a dog, now and forever, even when he thinks he won’t have to, even when he thinks he’s cured, he will always come back for more?