Review Summary: Pins and Needles is more or less what you would expect from The Birthday Massacre, except that this time it is coated in tasty sugar.
The Birthday Massacre are no strangers to horror movies. Everything from their band name to their album art, music videos, lyrical content, soundscape, etc., are heavily influenced by horror films. As heard in their previous albums, this horror influence resulted in a winning formula of synth-heavy gothic rock. The band owns a bold mixture of gothic rock, industrial, new wave, and often softly brushes into pop. It is an elegant soundscape with lush synths, but is also dark and menacing. The band is the perfect figurehead for the gothic rock scene: able to stretch beyond the confines and perceptions of gothic rock, and still retain a sinister sense. Regrettably, this original formula is diluted in Pins and Needles.
Pins and Needles is wondrous, but is not as original as previous albums. Their Looking Glass EP effectively predicted the pace of this album: fun, catchy, and exciting. “Fun” is not often a term associated with The Birthday Massacre, but then again, the band had never fully accepted their bubblegum pop side until now. The band were always on the verge of full-fledged pop, but somehow always found a way around selling out – such is not the case in this album. The pop sensibility in this album is impossible to ignore. ‘Always’ is the first song to embrace this change, and embraces it magnificently. The track is snappy and infectious, as it speeds along into the ferociously catchy chorus. ‘Control’ is similarly fetching, and once again takes your mind, searches for the song in your memory banks, and plays it on repeat. These are the catchiest songs of their career, and no previous listening experience with the band is necessary to enjoy these gems.
With a greater inclusion of pop, the problem that presents itself is the band’s reliance on head-bopping beats instead of an icy gothic atmosphere. This is the major problem in Pins and Needles. Whenever the band exercises their typical gothic creepiness, it is unconvincing. The beautiful, melancholy song, ‘Sideways’, is easily buried and lost in the midst of foot-stomping pop tracks. The listener is hooked, the listener wants more pop, but plodding gothic material clashes completely in such a sugar-filled area. Songs that would be considered enchanting in their previous albums now seem out of place - they are unwanted, and consequently seem boring.
While pop holds a dominant grip in the album, past direction and sound style are still evident. Various songs will allude to the chilling and gorgeous music of Walking With Strangers. ‘Pale’, for instance, treads upon firm soil set by the previous album. The warm electronics tuck in gently, blanketing the song and listener in a mound of cozy snow. The sentimental experience is further sustained through a quick taste of pop – icing on the cake. ‘Shallow Grave’ follows the same path and stirs a bit more pop in the mix, which is always tasty.
The band enjoys bashing guitars occasionally, but heaviness has never been an outstanding factor. In the album, the guitars are actually quite heavy, and are no longer tied down to simple melodies. Songs now receive the guitar hooks that the band have always fantasized about employing. ‘Two Hearts’, ‘Sleepwalking’, and the album-titled ‘Pins and Needles’ are prime examples, with guitar hooks undoubtedly geared to sound ominous. The guitars seem to be the only factor keeping the album creepy. Chibi (the lead singer) is no longer growling or half whispering/half singing (although, ironically, she does in one song), no, her vocal performance is innocent and cute to match the sweet pop of the music. Pins and Needles is not as serrated as the title suggests, there are no moments in the album that will inflict spine-tingling chills equivalent to the terrors of previous albums.
Pins and Needles is no better or worse than their previous albums, which is good news. The Birthday Massacre are content with staying the way they are - nearly perfect. Massive changes in their perfectly calculated synth-filled gothic rock would be unnecessary, and would likely distort the band’s core sound beyond comprehension. This is an album for the fans that did not necessitate earth-shaking change. This is an album for those who wanted less obscurity, with louder guitars and easier melodies. This is a superb album.
- In The Dark
- Pins and Needles