The Birthday Massacre – Fascination

Posted: 2 March 2022 in Albums
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Over twenty years and a dozen albums, The Birthday Massacre have become prime exponents of goth synth pop. They describe Fascination as ‘at once the most fully realized album with the bands signature blend of haunting vocals, captivating electronica and aggressive guitars and their most accessible’.

It’s this accessibility that immediately announces itself from the outset. The title, ‘Fascination’, immediately makes my mind leap to the song by The Human League, and this is unquestionably poppy, but this is in a different league instead. It’s the title track that opens the album and it’s a colossal anthem. It’s in the slower mid-pace tempo range, and the production is so immense as to be arena-worthy, the slick synths drifting over big, bombastic guitars. Some may baulk at the notion, but it’s pretty much a power ballad. It paves the way for an album that’s back-to-back bangers.

I mean, make no mistake, this is a pop album in a pure 80s vein, and pushes tendencies that were always in evidence in BM’s work. People often seem to forget just how dark a lot of mainstream pop was in the 80s, but listen to A-Ha, even Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw objectively and the currents of darkness are clearly apparent amidst the clean lines of the clinical synth pop production of the day. It’s perhaps time to re-evaluate what actually constitutes ‘cheesy’ – an adjective so often pinned to the 80s with no real consideration – and cast aside the idea of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to a lot of music of the era.

‘Stars and Satellites’ is bold and brooding, and probably the most overtly ‘goth’ track of the album’s nine, although ‘Like Fear, Like Love’ grabs bits of The Cure and tosses them into a stomping disco tune. But those drums… they’re great, they’re huge, but they really are the epitome of the 80s sound. Elsewhere, the guitar line on ‘One More Time’ actually goes 80s U2 with heavy hints of Strawberry Switchblade (and they weren’t goth either). Step too far? Maybe for some craving the chunky chug of industrial guitars, because this is fundamentally a riff-free zone, but Fascination works if you embrace the spirit of its being easy on the ear and accessible.

It feels fresh for the band, but also feels like a relatively safe step in the direction of commercialism. It’s ok, and the songwriting and performances are solid throughout, that much is undeniable. It’s one of those albums that may take some time to sink in, in the way that Editors’ On This Light and on This Evening and The Twilight Sad’s Nobody Wants to be Here, Nobody Wants to Leave, felt just that bit mainstream initially. Digesting an overtly ‘pop’ album or a change of direction – and while the direction of Fascination is something that’s always been a part of The Birthday Massacre’s sound – hearing it placed front and central inevitably feels like a shift. And it is a shift, of course, just not one of seismic proportions.

‘Is anyone real anymore?’ they ask on ‘Precious Hearts’ before the final cut, ‘The End of All Stories’ goes Cure again, only this time with monster power chords that border on metal to fill out the mix.

Dig it, soak it in, play it a few times. You’ll probably like it, even if not on first listen.

AA

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