POP MUSIC : L7 Slides Back to Sludgy Roots : ** 1/2; L7, "Hungry for Stink" ( Slash/Reprise )

On L7's fourth album, the L.A. quartet drops the tame pop veneer of 1992's "Bricks Are Heavy" and returns to the fuzzed-out din from which it sprang. The band--whose abrasive and wacky attitude has made it a college-rock godhead and inspiration to a myriad of new female groups--now delivers a more substantial album. Yet there are still problems.

Donita Sparks and Jennifer Finch's haggard screams are perfectly blase and jaded--to the point where they seem feigned. There's little genuine personality, be it a sense of irony or conviction, behind the lyrics, which are so predictably anti-Establishment that the only feeling you get from them is the band's need to be incredibly punk rock. It's as if after nine years, L7 still has nothing to say beyond the stock talk of clubs and coffeehouses: "Plastic people with their plastic lives, plastic models and plastic magazines."

The best things here are the music's surprise twists and turns and the experimental production touches. Sugary backing vocals skip daintily across sludgy grooves while an intricate melee of guitar feedback and distortion pierces the dirge-like beats. The eerie whistle of synthesizers, the kitschy croon of organ and occasional bongos wash the songs with a quirky '60s appeal.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday July 17, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction Because of incorrect information supplied to The Times, an erroneous credit accompanied a photo last Sunday of rock group L7. The photographer was Debra DiPaolo.
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