Review Summary: The album that briefly broke them into the mainstream, featuring the singles Shame and What Do I Have To Do?
Stabbing Westward was a band that deserved a lot more attention than they ever received during their career. While lesser groups were still jumping on the industrial rock bandwagon and trying to learn how to use a sampler, Stabbing Westward was playing concerts all around the Chicago area and making a name for theirselves with their phenomenal live shows. They were a band that used both the sound of mainstream rock and industrial to make music that was generally confrontational, and always emotional. On this, their second album, they finally received some of the recognition they deserved before fading back away during their third and fourth albums.
People that started listening to Stabbing Westward during their first release, Ungod
, will immediately notice a difference on this album. For one, the guitarist that was responsible for most of Ungod
's songs had left before the writing of this album. Due to that fact, this album lost the groove that the other one so prominently displayed. Instead of replacing the departed guitarist, Chris Hall rose to the challenge and picked up a lot of the guitar duties. Chris turned out to be a pretty good guitar player, even if he did just attempt to copy the style of their previous guitarist. Even better was that he also turned out to be a stronger song writer than their old guitar player. What that means is that what this album lost in the groove department was more than made up for with much-improved song writing. The songs on this album just stick in your head and stay there, and the choruses are more than just a sentence or two repeated to redundancy. Also they branched out lyrically, taking on other themes besides failed relationships - most notably sexual abuse in the song "Crushing Me".
The album opens with the song "I Don't Believe", which could have come off of Ungod
if not for the lack of groove and electronics, but it definitely has that feeling of anger and despair. It begins with a muddy guitar riff and Chris Hall saying “I’m such an asshole, god I’m such a stain, I just keep fucking up again and again,” before raging right into the chorus of the song. The next two tracks are the two singles that got them all the exposure. The second track (and second single), "Shame", is the more rocking of the two, featuring a riff that almost feels stolen from the archives of their original guitar player. It has that screeching sound that was prevalent on the first single from their debut album. Meanwhile, the third track (and first single), "What Do I Have to Do", is more subdued and ballad-like, but also features a lot more electronics than the rest of the album. It is also the song that broke them into the mainstream and onto Mtv rotation.
It should be mentioned that despite the fact that the fourth song is almost entirely electronics, it’s definitely noticeable that they have taken more of a backseat to the guitar playing and the choruses. Due to the caliber of the first three songs it might not seem like that big of a deal, but after those initial tracks the quality drops a notch. The only two songs out of the last five that aren’t just kind of slow and boring are “So Wrong” and “Falls Apart”. These two songs display a punk influence not found on the first album, but they also sacrifice even more of the electronic elements to achieve it.
Overall, this album is a much more safe and mainstream offering than their debut, featuring much-improved songwriting and song structures, but also a lack of energy and aggression (especially in the latter part of the album). Despite the fact that this album has two of Stabbing Westward’s most popular songs, due its drop in quality after the first four tracks it is really hard to recommend this to someone who has never heard them before. For those people, I’d recommend their third release, “Darkest Days”. For those that have heard them before, then it’s probably a safe bet that this is the album that introduced you to them and you’ll already know what you’re getting into.