Album of the Week review: Mannequin Pussy's 'I Got Heaven'

The band continues decades of excellence.

Michael Tullberg/GettyImages
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I remember when I hit my 30s and had to start thinking about adult things. I had plenty of questions. One of them was whether Marisa Dabice would ever regret naming her band Mannequin Pussy. I mean, it could make for some awkward intros at Parent-Teacher night. I also wondered as Dabice, and bandmates Kaleen Reading, Colins Regisford, and Maxine Steen moved well into their fourth decades, if their music would stagnate, soften, or maybe even evolve.

Happy to say that with the release of their fourth studio album, I Got Heaven, they are still proudly Mannequin Pussy, and their music has in fact evolved without softening. The title track, released as the lead single last Fall, opens with a deceptively lo-fi garage rock guitar before Regisford’s bass plunges in and Dabice’s growling vocals launch their attack. And she really is growling.

“I went and walked myself – Like a dog without a leach – Now I’m growling at a stranger – I am biting at their knees.” Dabice is angry. She is tired of waiting for the promises of her elders who have largely … well, I can’t say what they have done to the world in a family-friendly column, but you can probably guess. I also can’t quote “I Got Heaven’s” most provocative line, guaranteed to get the band banned from radio play.

Mannequin Pussy refuse to stagnate on their latest album

That line is designed to be juvenile and in your face, and Mannequin Pussy has certainly played in that sandbox throughout their career. But they have always shown hints of being more than that, and that comes out full force on I Got Heaven. The song “I Got Heaven” does it most overtly, but the entire album I Got Heaven is an unabashed stab at taking the reins of power from a generation that has mismanaged and abused it.

Pop hooks abound throughout the ten tracks. On “Loud Bark,” Dabice begins softly before elevating her proclamation of power – “A loud bark – Deep bite” – to an anthem. “I Don’t Know You,” one of the standout tracks practically begins as Pinkpantheress pops before Steen’s guitar snowplows into the mix and changes the entire tone of the song from wistful to demanding. The lyrics in the second half are the same simple declarations we heard in the first half but the music morphs them into something new.

But never fear. Mannequin Pussy can still do punk with the best of them. Short explosions like “Ok? Ok! Ok? Ok!” and “Aching,” which feature Dabice and Regisford engaging in some killer harmonic shrieking, remind that no matter how many pop hooks the band may create, they remain a punk band at their core.

The second half of the album ping pongs between those poles. There is pop and there is punk, but you would be hard-pressed to call Mannequin Pussy pop-punk. Listen to “Softly,” a hard pop rocker that examines power dynamics – “Promise me devotion – Never-ending love – I yearn to give you what you want – But know that I will not.”  Then listen to its follow-up, “Of Her,” one-and-a-half minutes of galloping punk about the same topic. Mannequin Pussy has always explored these themes and tried out different flavors of music, but to my ear, they have never blended musical and lyrical exploration to this degree.

I Got Heaven does not go quite as far as Skating Polly’s 2023 Chaos County Line. They don’t flirt with the extremes the way Skating Polly does. But they are still more interesting than most other bands from their side of the street, whether you call it punk, pop-punk, skate-punk, or whatever P-word you want to use.

There is a yearning desperation in Mannequin Pussy’s lyrics – begging for change in a cratering world – and they have developed a musical sophistication that mirrors that desperation, resulting in one of the best albums of early ’24. And now that I’m well beyond my own 30s, I’m kind of glad they kept the name.

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