For the majority of the population that watched Lost in Translation, the critically beloved 2003 movie that temporarily turned Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter into an indie “It” girl, most of the film’s tension came from that moody romance between a graying Bill Murray and a sharp Scarlett Johansson. The most common question on a viewer’s mind—“Would they really get together?”
Fair enough. However, if you were a diehard fan of electroclash mistress Peaches, a real harrowing moment came from the possibilities of a background encounter in a scene that has zero impact on the rest of the flick.
Leaning back in a lavishly fluorescent club in Japan, American actor/cross-cultural whiskey shill Bob (the subdued Murray) stares past a dancer performing her routine as Peaches’ sex anthem “Fuck the Pain Away” pumps through the room. Instead of showing interest in the topless contortionist in front of him or the unabashedly lurid lyrics pouring out of the sound system, Bob is apathetic and uncomfortable. He’s spent the film in a daze of ennui (occasionally lusting after Johansson’s character), and neither skin nor an overhead voice declaring “Sucking on my titties like you wantin’ me” are doing anything for him.
Then, Johannson shows up to crack him out of his stupor. Moments later, Bob is ready to leave the club forever, bidding a polite “Thank you” to the entertainment and referencing nothing else. Whether it was apparent or not, a real crisis has been averted: Bob paying no mind to the lascivious soundtrack means that “Fuck” held no chance of becoming a flavor-of-the-month novelty to saturate radio airwaves (see “Such Great Heights” and The Shins post-Garden State as examples). Sure, the call probably wasn’t that close (it’s not like stations could play the original anyway) but it was clear: Peaches was still a product of and for the underground.
The deliciously dirty track that punctuated the scene comes from the Canadian-bred Peaches (aka Merrill Beth Nisker), a gender-bending countercultural curio that’s made a career out of dirty talk. “Fuck” serves two primary purposes: it’s a good primer for the rest of her discography, and it will indicate how much of her work a listener can tolerate (if you enjoy this, you’ve joined the club). As Peaches’ signature song, the cut is built out of minimalist electro throbs, rattling cymbals, wry shout-outs to the women of ’80s new wave (such as a mention of Chrissie Hynde’s ass), and an oddly inserted moral message (“Stay in school/’cause it’s the best”). The best part comes when she asks, “What else is in the teaches of Peaches?” In one swift swoop, this line is able to reference the title of the 2000 disc the song first appeared on, provide a tongue-in-cheek nod to Nisker’s former career as an elementary school instructor, and set the stage for future hook-ups. Apparently, many triple-X lessons still need to be learned from Miss Peaches.
Class resumed session with I Feel Cream (XL Records), the fourth full-length under her alias. Backed by shimmering dance-ready blasts of synth and squeals of feedback, she’s progressed from just issuing commands to occasionally flexing her cords with a rapper’s flow. While Peaches was unable to be contacted to speak about her work (“She’s currently overseas touring in Europe and her schedule is packed” is the official word), there’s no need to wonder if she’s more uninhibited than before—it’s clear from the lyrics. Sure, she has the occasional interlude about emotional longing (“Lose You”) but Cream is, in whole, an outrageously ultra-sexual affair. She coos come-ons like “Hush now, baby, don’t you stress / I’m gonna fill your Mommy Complex,” reminds you to “Never go to bed without a piece of raw meat,” rambles about “big trouble in little man-gina” (no idea what this means), and goes public with the knowledge that you can “ride [her] bareback.” If enough conservatives knew that Cream existed, boycotts and protests would cling to her tour stops.
In person, she remains a daring livewire unwilling to keep anything in. If she’s headlining, there’s a chance that she’ll take a moment to mount a giant balloon of a phallus. When playing an amphitheater to open for Nine Inch Nails, she fearlessly raced from the stage into the stands, dancing maniacally between mostly empty rows, boldly enunciating her red light poetry to attract the attention of strangers who have no idea who or what she is. If you’re a Trent Reznor fan and “Peaches” evokes associations with smoothies instead of crass electronica, this stuff is shocking in its bluntness. There’s no doubt that her subcultural currency comes from how defiantly outlandish she’s willing to get.
Should Peaches ever make it to the mainstream, this kind of campy fun would be in danger. Her verses could be scrubbed up and watered down, turning her into a novelty product with little lasting value (the William Hung of perversion, perhaps). With taboos endlessly rolling off her tongue, the Queen of Cream is best at her edgiest. Keep blushing/ balking/giggling at that illicit wordplay, because if Peaches stopped, who knows if the world might ever be treated to such glorious filth again?