Review Summary: They're not creepy sounding anymore… who cares.
The Birthday Massacre isn’t a band that could be called complacent. On just their second album they had already created a winning formula that included industrial, new wave and gothic rock, but they weren’t done yet. On their third release they managed to improve on just about every aspect of their sound while making it more melodic and catchy at the same time. It was an excellent achievement simply due to the fact that they didn’t really lose any of their signature sound in the process. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about The Birthday Massacre’s latest release, Pins and Needles
. Pins and Needles
continues the band’s push towards a more mainstream sound, and that progression has finally taken a toll on their core sound.
The foundation of The Birthday Massacre’s sound has always revolved around electronics and a kind of weird psychotic innocence that pervaded most of the lyrics. This sound was supplemented by playful synth melodies that had the ability to morph between pretty and eerie with an uncanny ease. The star of this show was, of course, the vocals of Chibi. Her voice was the last piece needed to create a strange Alice in Wonderland
meets Tim Burton atmosphere that still managed to be catchy and accessible. Unfortunately that atmosphere has been totally discarded on Pins and Needles
. The band seems to have set their entire focus on making songs that are totally safe, and they’ve lost their personality in the process. There isn’t a single moment on this album that will create the kind of unease or even fun-haunted-house feelings of the previous releases. The melodies never deviate from their upbeat style and Chibi has done away with any abrasiveness that she occasionally utilized in the past. Here’s the real kicker, though – it doesn’t matter at all. Despite a lack of character, Pins and Needles
is just about as excellent as anything The Birthday Massacre have ever done, and in some ways it’s even better.
The most noticeable improvement is in the album’s actual sound. Pins and Needles
is easily the band’s most professional sounding album to date. The mix is so clear and polished that literally every instrument has its own space. The percussion is thick and powerful, the guitars are sharp, the electronics rumble underneath and the keyboards dominate without overpowering. This slick production is perfect for the band’s sound, which is now firmly built around Chibi’s vocals and the huge hooks they provide. Songs such as the title track and “Always” are easily some of the catchiest in the band’s repertoire, but even the weakest tracks have choruses that will get stuck in your head and refuse to fade away. Luckily, this huge leap in songwriting is enough to cause any backlash from the lack of a few elements to be negligible. Also, although they had to sacrifice a bit of atmosphere to achieve their desired aim, they didn’t neuter their entire sound. The Birthday Massacre have never been known as a heavy band, but they’ve always had a prominent chunky guitar sound and it is still present and sounding better than ever.
In hindsight, the fact that The Birthday Massacre have chosen to drop their strange/eccentric undercurrent might be seen as a positive, because eventually it could have ended up being viewed as a crutch. Instead Pins and Needles
proves that the band are excellent songwriters that are more than capable of creating albums that don’t rely on any gimmicks. The lack of a bit of personality and individual flair is more than made up for by some of the strongest songs in the band’s repertoire. Every track on Pins and Needles
is expertly crafted and delivered with the best production of their entire discography. This could truly be the album that breaks the band into the mainstream with a sound and direction that is entirely professional while retaining most of what current fans have come to expect.