Review Summary: Pop-punk: The Musical!
Once upon-a-time Forgive Durden used to be a solid sounding angular pop-punk band sort of like Gatsby’s American Dream. And then they went and did something crazy and created a Musical album. A Musical
Album. Like, Musical
as in Phantom of the Opera and Oliver Twist and the like. Probably one of the more eccentric albums released on the Fueled By Ramen label, (home of Fall Out Boy and Paramore) Raiza’s Shadow
, as this one’s called, revolves around the ruinous actions of Ahrima the angel, whom, feeling unappreciated and undervalued, manages to somehow tear the universe into two and is cast into exile, setting the scene for love and sacrifice to once again unite it all. The usual. It’s not exactly an original story line, taking its cue from both the rather popular Bible and Romeo and Juliet, only this time set in a fantasy world created by pop-punk poster boy Thomas Dutton and brother Paul.
True to form, the music here is used to accompany the storyline, rather than vice versa, helping to texture the lyrical themes of love and hope, misery and despair like any true musical score. Superbly produced, everything here is more or less in the right place, from the soaring orchestral strings, reverb laden bell tolls, twinkling xylophones, rippling harpsichords and nicely placed brass and wind instrumentation all thrown together and infused with the essence of pop-punk. With its own little ensemble of guest vocalists taken from various bands in the genre, Dutton really meant it when he said this was going to be a musical. A little pretentious? Perhaps. A little cheesy? Definitely. But dammit this thing is cute.
Besides, most of the time, it’s the more straightforward pop-punk tunes like Toba the Tura
that hit on the emotional target that the record seems to strive for – even if it does feature a harpsichord and wailing violins. Other tracks like It’s True Love
, featuring the wonderfully harmonious voice of Greta Salpeter (The Hush Sound) and The Missing Piece
, centering upon two characters’ profession of love for each other, provide fleeting moments of genuine emotional expression, relatively untarnished by the aura of cheese surrounding Raiza’s Shadow
. Truth is, Pop-punk this may be, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the punk genesis of Raiza’s Shadow
, with the emphasis so heavily placed creating the epic-musical-pop vibe that thrives in Dutton’s songwriting.
And of course, it’s hard to miss the theatrical elements that litter the album. Songs like The Spider and The Lamp
and Doctor Doctor
reek of classic musical theatre material, being over-the-top and playing like performative pieces rather than serious music. Both these songs are also carried well by their respective guest vocalists – Max Bemis’ (Say Anything) distinctive snide-dripped delivery as the evil spider of malice working wonderfully well with Dutton’s more ‘pure’ vocals in The Spider and The Lamp
, while in Doctor Doctor
, it’s easy to hear the delight in which Shawn Harris (The Matches) tackles his role as the erratic voodoo witch doctor. Using a guest vocalist doesn’t always work though – Some listeners will recognize vocalist Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou fame here in his role as the story’s narrator. Depressingly, his immense vocal talents are utterly wasted here and instead Weiss sounds trapped, his spoken word lines allowing for little room to show off his usually powerful emotional delivery. It’s not his fault, but more the template he’s been given to work with.
That all said, it’s still hard to judge this by the standards of any serious musical - after all, you won’t find repeated musical motifs or choral standards that are so prevalent in modern stage-play. Not that it really matters of course, because that’s the thing - musical or not, the fact is that Razia’s Shadow
undoubtedly comes off as a lot more Disney than Broadway, like a beautifully pictured children’s tale with an equally childish intent. If the producers of High School Musical or Enchanted decided to go all fantasy pop-punk on us, this may very well be the result. Characters are thinly carved, appearing and disappearing in the space of a few songs, and despite the jungle thick lushness of the music, after a while much of the songwriting begins to simply blend into itself. Raiza’s Shadow’s
simple and direct lyrical imagery, while working well occasionally, sometimes skims across feelings like a rock over water, never really managing to sink deep enough to take any emotional hold, verging instead on shallow playful childishness. So for an album billing itself as a musical and relying so heavily on lyrics and storyline, it's sort of sad to see that sometimes it’s just so empty of any real feeling.
Yet for all this, there’s just an undeniable… charm about it all. It’s music that twinkles and shines with all the innocence of the pop-punk spirit, with its fuzzy-wuzzy message pulling at all strings and occasionally tugging one attached to the heart: ‘Don’t you worry boy/ it’s a waste of time/place your hand in mine/ untie your mind/ we’ll just float away/ into the day/ You’re not the only one who thinks of falling in love’
sings the gorgeous Lizzie Huffman (Man In The Blue Van) in The Missing Piece
. Scoff if you must, but an entire album’s worth of this every once in a while turns up a piece of gold, or a chunck of silver at the least. Gimmicky? Sure, but gosh is it cute.