Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader
The album cover of Death of a Cheerleader suggests a David Lynchian universe: front woman Mia Berrin is laid out in a white outfit that contrasts artfully with her dark hair and red lips; green-shadowed eyes gaze fuzzily at the camera. She is in a grave. It’s an uncanny image.
With a shimmer of eerie, Phil Spector-esque xylophone in the intro, opener Soundcheck further creates the expectation of a modern take on 60s girl groups, so when the commercial grunge of Head Cheerleader kicks in, there’s some cognitive dissonance. The description of the album claims that “the guitar-based world of the record meets the cinematic 50s/60s inspired world.” Does it? Saying it doesn’t necessarily make it so. Even the description is woolly: 50s or 60s cinema? There’s a big difference. Which directors? It feels like cool-sounding cultural touch points have been thrown around without any work done to add value or interest. Although Pom Pom Squad are a band, this is very much Berrin’s show, and a solo project until 2018. She claims the entire album cover for itself.
Crying is an interesting track, Berrin’s voice sounding a little like the high keening from fellow New York band Cults. It’s a song about crying. The album works best with the short sharp offerings in the middle section. Cake, with its driving drumbeat and unhinged giggling, has a looser, less self-conscious feel and one can’t help but wish that more of the record sounded like this. Lux, another sub-two-minute offering, sounds a little like Let’s Make Love (And Listen to Death from Above) by CSS – no bad thing. Drunk Voicemail has an enigmatic, Twin Peaks-lite bass line. On the final full track, Be Good, the creepy xylophone is finally back, but was it worth that wait? No.
The PR blurb talks of “learning to become your own special kind of cheerleader”, which may be too twee for non-American tastes. Grunge does self-help by way of a cheerleader loose from a David Lynch film that never got made? It sounds like an amazing concept but it does not follow through in the lyrics or music. Even fantasy worlds need logic; if it’s about becoming your own cheerleader, why is it called Death of a Cheerleader? The iconoclasm of using one of Americana’s most enduring and potent images for one’s own agenda is interesting, but the result does not deliver: the sweet isn’t cloying and sickly enough and the sour isn’t rough or abrasive enough. This could have been a much stranger, darker, riskier and altogether more memorable record. As it is, it’s (other people’s) style over substance.
Death of a Cheerleader is released on 25th June 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Pom Pom Squad’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Lux here: