The Birthday Massacre
Walking With Strangers
2007
B-



the Birthday Massacre doesn't sound as if it quite knows what it is. Part '80s synth-pop, part scare-your-granny industrial, and part mall-goth, the band could just as easily turn into a radio success story as it could into a stale "Goth Talk" joke. Because the group cloaks its pop core in a familiar way, it swings to both those poles. Even so (and even despite the unfortunate album cover), Walking With Strangers has the songs and the sonics for a memorable work, even if it's clear the artists are still finding their groove.

At this point, that groove primarily relies on the sensation of Molly Ringwald having gone suddenly and politely bad; pretty in black, she bites the necks of the rich kids and hides the marks with skinny tie. This version of Ringwald comes to us through Chibi, the quintessential voice to reach both Hot Topic [obligatory reference fulfilled] and David Lynch. Her melodies arrive precisely, occasionally veering toward rock but usually floating in purple ether.

With fine production by Dave Ogilvie and just the right amount of sheen, the musicians mix their influences fairly well, but still give the sense of drawing on their predecessors more than creating their band. Much of the music relies on traditional atmospheric keyboard swirls, usually paired with programmed beats. When Rainbow adds his heavy guitar sounds, the group develops an aggressive tone. The juxtaposition with Chibi's soft voice works more often than it doesn't; even with the more industrial moments, she helps the band circle in on something friendly to the ears. "Red Stars" mixes NIN tones with the smoother side of Poe for a casual approach to resistance.

That attitude makes the resistance safe. "You build it, we break it / You sign and we erase it" has all the snarl of a “Simpsons” bully, and the band doesn't really get any more dangerous than that. There's the gentle furor and important angst of late adolescence throughout the album. "Movie" combines the feelings, threatening like "Red Stars" to erase someone before declaring, "My heart may be broken, but so will my fear." At those moments, the Birthday Massacre turns into those kids who want to pat on the head for trying to be artsy and different.

The group has better luck when it keeps its lyrics grounded in the physical. With the album's more concrete descriptions, Chibi can play with surface and images, noting in "Goodnight" that "Every feature displayed will match your crowd" in an effort to show beauty defined simply as conformity. When conformity is reached the "one hand to cut the other" line (yeah, I know, cutting and whatnot) turns into "one had to wash the other.” The band, of course, resists that posturing ("Red Stars" likewise bemoans "celebrating imitation"), but the strength of the lyric lies in its surprising turn to compassion: "This isn't personal; we're all dancing to the same sad song." The band, representing subculture, acknowledges unity. From the position of defined group (that '00s goth identity), they passionately appeal to individualism while recognizing community (while making sure to keep a mask of cynicism handy). With so much struggle over identity, it's no wonder the Birthday Massacre hasn't figured itself out yet. When it does, it'll be worth knowing.



Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake
Reviewed on: 2007-09-20
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