Right now, maybe the biggest story here in Minnesota is over a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would limit marriage to a man and a woman. My school recently came out as “neutral” regarding the amendment, a non-stance that infuriated a good chunk of the student body and has led to endless debate on various Facebook pages. I don’t intend to get into a huge rant about this issue here, but the continued fight for LGBT (and all those other letters) rights reminded me of Team Dresch, and their 1995 album Personal Best — an album that captured so many of these hot-button issues back in the mid-90’s and still feels fresh today because of it.
Part of the greatness of “Personal Best” is that it offered a point-of-view that is exceedingly rare in music, especially rock music. Every member of Team Dresch was openly lesbian, something that deeply affected their songwriting. Like most Riot Grrrl albums, Personal Best focuses frequently on women’s issues, but it also expands into other LGBT-related subject matter that stands out because so few songs are written about it. No canonized dude-rock band has ever made a song like “Freewheel,” which focuses on a girl/girl relationship and includes the kiss-off line “go back to your boyfriend.”
Due to the makeup of the band and the songs themselves, Personal Best feels like one of the truest punk albums out there, an authentic collection of anthems for outsiders and the disenfranchised. And, like most of the music from the Riot Grrrl movement, it oozes passion and intensity in every note. It has that feeling of music that was made because it had to be heard and it has something important to say, not because the band felt like throwing together some songs or wanted to cash a paycheck.
This is most apparent on “She’s Amazing,” one of the most inspiring and vital songs to come out of the Riot Grrrl movement. Dedicated to an outspoken female role model (there’s another subject not seen in many rock songs), it could easily apply to the entire movement itself, which was full of outspoken members that “many people will try to destroy.” On a similar note, “1 Chance Pirate TV” turns the Sinead O’Connor SNL incident into one of the album’s most memorable songs, as it sprints out of the gate with an angry punk guitar riff before slowing down into a tone of resigned acceptance with the refrain “sometimes it feels alright.” Elsewhere, the band targets the Christian right on the appropriately titled “Hate the Christian Right!”
Personal Best has 10 songs that zip by in just 24 minutes, but it leaves a significant impression. It’s punk at its best, combining the personal and political, inspiration and outrage, and bringing it all together with good old fashioned quality songwriting. From start to finish, it holds up as arguably the strongest album of the Riot Grrrl movement, and it feels more important now than ever. In many ways, it feels like the soundtrack to a revolution that is now in full swing.