Not many punk or new-wave icons have weathered the decades as well as Gina Birch. It probably has something to do with the fact that she pretty much dropped out of music after just seven years, when the band she cofounded in 1977, the Raincoats, called it a day. They re-formed in 1994--at the request of Kurt Cobain--toured with Nirvana, and two years later made a remarkable reunion album, Looking in the Shadows. Geffen issued it, along with the band's three seminal Rough Trade albums. But as suddenly as they reappeared, the Raincoats disappeared again--with the exception of Birch. Slow Dirty Tears (Kill Rock Stars) is the stunning debut album by her new band, the Hangovers; while it bears a muted resemblance to the Raincoats--the inelegant dub effects on "Duck Song," Birch's slippery warble--it's by no means a direct continuation. Whether on the cooed soul of "Sweetest Pain," which is subtly undergirded with four-on-the-floor house beats, or the catharsis of "I Feel Like...," which dances around the melody of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" before barreling into some hard rock-gospel testifying, Birch's elliptical melodies sink in slowly, revealing a warm architectural grace. By contrast, her lyrics are almost all relentlessly bleak: "I'm Glad I'm Me Today" is less a celebration of self than a sigh of relief about not being like other people, the party memories in "We Had a Really Smashing Time" turn ugly as the substance abuse and recklessness pile up, and on "Sitting on Top of the World" Birch repeats the title and the line "I could not be one tiny bit happier" as if she were trying to convince herself of their truth. By the end of the tune, when her voice cracks up--laughing or crying or maybe both--she's Humpty Dumpty on the way down. The Hangovers open for Sleater-Kinney, who are sure to play stuff from their forthcoming album; also appearing is Flin Flon, the new band led by former Unrest front man Mark Robinson. Saturday, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.