"Like most artists, 1990s cuddlecore queens Cub resented being pigeonholed. In a way, that's kind of a shame. When I say the Vancouver-based trio's early recordings are among the cutest things I've heard, I'm giving some of my highest praise, but to most people, "cute" probably means something less, well, substantial. Especially when applied to three young women with only modest technical chops, the term could seem both confining and condescending. Sure enough, Cub were moving in a noisier direction by 1997, when they called it quits. In interviews, singer/bassist Lisa Marr would emphasize her smoking and drinking, two very grown-up vices; at another point, then-drummer Neko Case shocked an unruly audience member with a roundhouse right. Twee as fuck, maaan.
Cub may have been understandably uncomfortable being written off as cute, but their music-- mostly punky three-chord twee-pop similar to Sacramento's Tiger Trap or a Pacific Northwest all-girl Ramones-- was often more memorable, emotionally affecting, and flat-out fun than so much of the self-serious, middlebrow cock rock that tends to top year-end lists. Their 1993 collection of EPs and new material, Betti-Cola, which features future New Pornographer and solo songstress Case behind the kit on a couple of tracks, shows Cub finding their ramshackle, sweetly innocent voice. When they began to toy with their squeaky-clean image on 1995's Come Out Come Out, a good band got even better. Both albums, recently given the deluxe-reissue treatment on original label Mint, come as endearingly awkward reminders of a free-spirited enthusiasm too often missing in today's crop of licensing-ready indie-pop upstarts. At least cuteness can be controversial.
Featuring cover art by Archie Comics artist and Josie & the Pussycats creator Dan DeCarlo, Betti-Cola compiles Cub's early Mint EPs, Pep and Hot Dog Day, and adds 15 newer songs-- plus, on this reissue, four previously 7-inch-only tracks and one live "Wipe Out" goof. Girly and unabashedly juvenile, Betti-Cola lets Marr, guitarist/singer Robynn Iwata, and a rotating cast of drummers breeze through songs about chinchillas, dolphin boys, flying carpets, and eventual Destroyer guitarist Nicolas Bragg; like Jonathan Richman post-Modern Lovers, Cub prove that childlike whimsy can be, in the words of Joe Harvard, "a purer form of rebellion." As with most proudly amateurish bands, Cub actually improved given practice, so jangly mid-album tracks like lonesome "Pretty Pictures" and popsicle-packing "A Picnic" are among the best here, charming and melodic. "It's true, the world is ugly/ But everything could change," Marr sings on "Someday", a wrenchingly optimistic love song for no one. The covers-- the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl", Beat Happening's "Cast a Shadow", Daniel Johnston's "Tell Me Now"-- are well chosen, always neatly suited for Cub's powerfully light-hearted delivery.
Cub tighten up as a band still more for Come Out Come Out without losing their appealing simplicity, thanks in part to increasingly confident songwriting. Having a full-time drummer, Lisa G., probably also helped. The reissue tacks on an alternate version of adorable watching-you-sleep song "Your Bed", a silly live version of "Cast My Shadow", a sillier radio rendition of the debut's "My Chinchilla", and an, uh, ambient-house mix of early song "Go Fish", but the original full-length itself still stands as one of the better twee-pop albums from an era that also brought us great material from the Pastels, the Softies, Rocketship, Tullycraft, and others. "New York City" captures the joy of being young and in love in a big city, with fuzz-tone guitars and girl-group melodies, while organ-accented "Everything's Geometry" goes for jangly guitars but fuzzy math: "If 1 is 3 and 3 is 9, then we can be happy all of the time." Here, pumpkins turn into princesses, and a "flaming red bobsled" can be a thing of menace. A closing Go-Go's cover, "Vacation", is as deceptively exuberant as you'd expect.
The album takes a darker turn on songs like bloodstained "Life of Crime", but it never loses its spirit of fun. Where Betti-Cola seems assured of the modern ideal of romantic love, Come Out Come Out interjects playfully self-aware anxiety next to the giddiness of tra-la-la love songs like "I'm Your Angel". On "Tomorrow Go Away", Marr sings (with some irony): "We never talk of love/ 'Cause I'm much too cool for that now/ And you fuck me on the floor/ 'Cause there's no room for a bed... We eat lunch with your parents while you're wishing I was dead." It's been said that you can reason someone into believing in God, but you can't reason them out of it, and I wonder if it's the same way with true love: Once you've taken that leap of faith, does everything change? Bad as they may have wanted to be, Cub landed squarely on the side of the angels. And that's totally punk rock." -Marc Hogan, May 10, 2007, pitchforkmedia.com