Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot greets her supporters as she is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of feminist punk group Pussy Riot greets her supporters as she is escorted to a court room in Moscow, Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Pussy Riot: But are they any good? Add to ...

Let us all take a moment and thank Russian protest band Pussy Riot for reviving the possibility that, somewhere in the world, punk rock can once again be considered dangerous. Before a judge on Friday sentenced the three young activists to two years in prison for a stunt performance in a Russian Orthodox church, the only feathers punk ruffled in recent years belonged to uncool dads being bombarded by The Clash via their snotty teenage offspring; the rest of us were putting Ramones T-shirts on our toddlers and posting the photos on Instagram. Sadly, though, western punks hearing Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer – a two-minute blast of loud, fast, sloppy riffage blended with choral harmony satirizing President Vladimir Putin – might say, “Sounds like someone’s been listening to Crass,” before sighing wearily in the singular way that only music snobs can.

More Related to this Story

Oh, we jaded rock fans will happily co-sign Pussy Riot’s political stance, even if that’s not what landed them in trouble per se. According to the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova, nearly half of Russians polled believed that a sentence of two to seven years was appropriate for their crimes; much of rural Russia is devoutly Orthodox, and view Pussy Riot’s transgression as an act of blasphemy against the church. (The band contends that they were protesting Patriarch Kirill’s support of Putin in this spring’s election.)

The Sex Pistols proved that you get more attention for offending the public than you do for political dissent; the anti-monarchy sentiment of their single God Save The Queen, released during Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee anniversary in 1977, propelled the song to the No. 2 spot on the British charts during the jubilee weekend. The Pistols were arrested for trying to play the song on a riverboat on the Thames outside Buckingham Palace, but they didn’t do more than a night’s worth of time – certainly not two years in a Russian prison. Pussy Riot 1, Sex Pistols 0.

Musically, there isn’t much to Punk Prayer. The guitars sound like they were recorded under a blanket, the tune is unintelligible even by punk/hardcore standards and the prayer bits are distracting at best. Worse, the song is in Russian, which is impossible to understand. Accents are fine, even encouraged, but punk is about short, memorable chants. You’re not going to get many YouTube hits if American teenagers looking for a phrase to co-opt in order to express how much they hate gym class can’t decipher a word.

Much more promising is Kropotkin-Vodka, a grinding slab of noise from Pussy Riot’s album Kill The Sexist, which compares positively with the lock-step distorted grime of groups like Seattle’s A-Frames. (If A-Frames hadn’t just broken up, we’d have suggested they collaborate on a split single. Does anyone have Pussy Riot’s manager’s Skype ID?) According to freepussyriot.org, the song’s opening lyric translates as “occupy the city with a kitchen frying pan,” which isn’t quite as daring as, say, Suck My Left One by 1990s riot grrrl punks Bikini Kill (cited by Pussy Riot as an inspiration), but is still fairly threatening, and by extension, awesome.

And the group’s output appears to be improving; Putin Lights Up The Fires, a single recorded by the non-imprisoned members of Pussy Riot and released last Friday, is a snappy little number with a snarling riff that recalls The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog and a breakneck pace that doesn’t let up. If they keep on like this, Pussy Riot could have a club tour booked before they even get out of jail. And if they do, they can crash on my couch any time.

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories