Few female artists have enjoyed such a prolonged period of underground street-cred as Peaches, aka Merrill Nisker, whose 2000 debut The Teaches of Peaches broke new ground in terms of both lo-fi electroclash and ‘f**k-you’ style female empowerment.
Last week, NPR published a lengthy tribute to The Teaches of Peaches – featuring an image of Nisker with bruised kneecaps following a raucous stage performance – hailing the Canadian-born artist’s willingness to upset the template as to how female artists were suppose to look, and perform.
'The Teaches of Peaches,' the electroclash debut of Peaches, helped inject abrasive sounds and explicit sexuality into the two decades of mainstream pop that have followed. @sashageffen has the latest entry in our 20|20 series: https://t.co/lq6RGSBcLc— NPR Music (@nprmusic) September 30, 2020
“Whether a woman reined in or flaunted her sexuality, whether she was seen as an authentic folk balladeer or a plastic pop automaton, she could not shed the inherent stigma of her gender,” author Sasha Geffen wrote. “She still had to perform in an arena ultimately circumscribed by men.
“Peaches saw through the bind and figured that if she couldn’t win, she could at least make the kind of music she wanted. She could be both authentic and sexual, emotional and gauche, and if the mainstream couldn’t handle it, she would find an undercurrent of similarly frustrated listeners who could.
“The Teaches of Peaches struck against that unsteady dilemma in which women and girls in the public gaze found themselves.”
No more is this evident than on the triumphant F*** the Pain Away, the album’s opener, which featured prominently in two of the major pop culture events of the early 2000s (in our eyes anyway), Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and 2 Many DJs’ As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2.
History has been kind to The Teaches of Peaches – Nisker’s brand of subversive, salacious energy is just what we need for these dark times – but when it was released, it received a mixed response from music critics. To mark its 20th anniversary, here’s a selection of reviews:
Not cock-rock, bukkake-rock. And though you may be lucky enough not to know what that means, Peaches had better. Doesn’t matter whether she’s a performance artist, a concept rocker, a bored schoolteacher, or an expat with a gimmick. “Come on, hot rod/Give me your wad” etc. is prosex postfeminism for the age of Internet porn, in which thousands of women a day prove how cool they are by smiling through their semen facials. It’s wish fulfillment for boys who make passes at girls who wear glasses. And given a beat by Chilly Gonzales’s low-techno bump and grind, it’s perfect for a fashion industry finally past the embarrassment of junkie chic.
Welcome to the world of Peaches, a Canadian MC and sometime-porn star whose life’s ambition to sing the body erotic is fulfilled in this minimalist, sweaty-palmed 11 track paean to instant physical gratification. Because, make no bones, ‘The Teaches…’ Peaches spits so seductively of mostly belong in the ‘Reproductive Biology‘ portion of the curriculum. From the clit-pop avant-noise-disco of ‘Diddle My Skittle‘ to Moroder-on-poppers of recent single ‘Lovertits’, Peaches dribbles one-handed fictions over brilliantly dispassionate Teutonic grooves, kinda like Will Powers’ (of ’80s novelty-hit ‘Kissing With Confidence‘ fame) scoring the soundtrack to Deep Throat. And it’s ace, like you imagine Madonna would’ve sounded if the records had matched the raunch of her videos/concerts/multimedia-experiments.
When the lady in question appears on the sleeve in a cropped crotch shot wearing a rather fetching pair of pink knickers you think she might mean business. When she kicks off the album with F**k The Pain Away, like PJ Harvey with Tourette’s Syndrome, you KNOW she does.
“F**k the Pain Away” isn’t a love sonnet. Imagine NIN’s classic sex howl “Closer” given an irony pedicure, retold from the receiving end of Trent Reznor’s anguished humping, then set to catchy machine beats, guttural keyboard sounds and digital hand claps. It’s the most notorious song on her raunchy debut, but for all her dirty talk about “my titties,” it’s drained of all sensuality. […] Mostly, Peaches’ sadomasochistic come-ons sound like a satire of phone-sex services, without the per-minute charges.
The unfortunate thing about Peaches is that she’s turned into a one-woman referendum on the worthiness of the genre we’ll go ahead and call electroclash: the widespread misconception that this stuff is all hucksterism and schtick can be traced pretty directly back to her lyrics and Fischerspooner’s stage wardrobe. The one possibly good thing, for our bar conversation and general sense that Something Is Happening, is that this makes her a little like The Strokes used to be: we all know she’s out there, and most of us feel obligated to have some sort of opinion about that.
What are the teaches of Peaches? Her analysis of sexual dynamics falls short of the advanced school of, say, Millie Jackson or Denise LaSalle. Her vulgarity is usually playful and silly, never mean-spirited or gratuitous. She rarely pretends to be seductive or coy, always opting for frank, honest, and demanding. Hers is a world where recreational sex is fun and absorbing, devoid of tedious emotional attachments. It’s as if 20 years of disease, ideology, hang-ups, puritanism, and paranoia have been discarded abruptly to reveal (again) that the essence of gettin’ it on is happy, natural, unhinged. And there’s power in it. As the Peach herself sums it up: “I want to f**k people up the ass with my music”.