Rockinƒ?TM the Shocker

By Eric Kelsey

Running neck-and-neck with Yo La Tengo’s I’m Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass for best album title of the year, Peaches’s, Impeach My Bush expands her gender-conscious oeuvre beyond provocation and straightforward social obstinacy.
Peaches (Merrill Nisker), a former middle-school teacher, got her start in the post-modern-identified avant garde of Montreal in the late 1990s. Around 2000 Nisker adopted the Peaches pseudonym. Her apolitical gender-bending gestures brought more attention than any of her music. Listeners appeared more interested in her hotpants and “ugly” sexuality. The shock value of her ubiquitous cameltoe and hairy upper thighs traveled better abroad, landing her on Berlin’s Kitty-Yo label.

Europe’s capital of techno, Berlin gave Peaches ample room to develop her abrasive synthetic sound, later grouped under the heading electroclash. With her first album, The Teaches of Peaches, Nisker transformed herself into an unstable duality: herself an artist and artwork. Her lewd and queer-identified persona as Peaches complicated matters more so. Nisker would in course relieve tension through lyrics as abrasive and sharp as the beats behind her.
She most famously sang “Suckin’ on my titties like you wanna be callin’ me all the time like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie behind…” on the opening track, “Fuck the Pain Away,” to The Teaches of Peaches. Everyone has probably heard the song at some point, whether it is a chunk of the boomeranging beats over a TV spot, or when Bill Murray embarrassingly meets Scarlett Johansson at Tokyo strip club in Lost in Translation.

Mainstream interpretations ignore Nisker’s Peaches persona as a work of art in itself. Consequently, Peaches is reduced to shock rather than music or an artwork that attempts to decenter the mainstream notion of popartist. Peaches likes to play on the homoeroticism of rock ‘n’ roll’s hypersexualized male, wielding her guitar as a giant phallus. Moreover, The Teaches of Peaches worked more like an academic treatise than it did as an album. Nisker stated her points and backed them up with her gender-bending persona.

Yet, on her follow up, Fatherfucker, Nisker fell in the trap of making Peaches into the very shallow persona of shock. She appeared on the album cover in a beard and would shout “I don’t give a fuck” or “Eat a cookie, a big dick, everyday, what?” ad infinitum/naseum. In short, the “hole” that Peaches brazenly claimed to have in her “middle” on her debut registers simply as a hole on Fatherfucker. Where The Teaches of Peaches sounded half like personal manifesto and half like an academic paper, Fatherfucker came across as tiresome diving into self-parody.

Impeach My Bush showcases more than Nisker taking a political front while reworking the Peaches persona into a pop singer. Nisker avoids the dated sounds of electroclash favoring an amalgam of pop standards: hip-hop, disco, glam and rock.

The new pop accessibility of Peaches allows her to create a sly and subversive element not found elsewhere in her product. In the synth-driven disco of “Downtown” Peaches shows an unexpected range, actually singing in breathy innocence. But on songs like “Tent in Your Pants,” Peaches takes a straight hip-hip beat out of the Dirty South fashioning it as a pose in order to invert the typical gender politics of hip-hop. Instead of a man rapping about money, and “bitches” with big “tits,” Peaches waxes on about the “Tent in Your Pants” that she wants to get into. The song purposefully “climaxes” with Peaches huffing, “It hurts so good, I got a sore-gasm.”

Peaches benefits from the guest spots of Joan Jett (“You Love It”) and Beth Ditto of The Gossip (“Two Guys for Every Girl”). Peaches culminates her theme of subverting the listener’s expectations on the final track, aptly named “Stick It to the Pimp.” “I wanna stick, you wanna stick it,” she sings, “I bet you thought I was going to say in?” and she finally counters with an embarrassing pause for the listener’s own self-reflection.

The heart of “Impeach My Bush” lies in this juxtaposition of familiar pop sounds augmented with the incongruous lyric. Though this is by no means new, there’s no shock value—though a song titled “Rock the Shocker”—that Nisker mines in her Peaches persona. Instead, Nisker throws the listener into a tailspin as Peaches holds a mirror up to our expectations of pop music.