Apparently, gloom-rockers can play it safe.
When She Wants Revenge burst onto the scene in early ‘06, they were reviving a dark electronic sound that had largely been lost in the wake of the post-millennial emo explosion. Taking cues from both Joy Division and Depeche Mode, the duo (comprised of Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin) crafted an idol-worshipping eponymous debut that was able to overcome its obvious influences by simply being nothing more than a solid, cathartic feel-bad kind of record. With This is Forever, however, the group seem to be perfectly content with crafting their debut album all over again. Despite a few worthy entries to their canon, it’s hard to shake the feeling that This is Forever is nothing more than She Wants Revenge, Pt. II.
Things get off on the wrong-foot straight from the get go with “First, Love”, a stumbling, half-hearted instrumental to some movie that only Warfield and Bravin can see in their heads. Its lack of outright propulsion sets up an iffy tone, and things don’t get any better when first single “Written in Blood” follows right behind it. Though this is the most blatant example, there are a few other songs where it sounds like She Wants Revenge are deliberately trying to rewrite their sole hit, “Tear You Apart”—replete with brooding basslines and Warfield’s Monahan-esque stories of depressed, neurotic women. The duo does have a good grasp on theatricality in their songs, but when the listener is subjected to lines like “You taste like tear stains and coulda-beens / But I love a good train-wreck”, it’s hard not to feel like the melodrama has been cranked up just a notch too high. Even Depeche Mode had a conscious knowledge of how outlandish their songs were, and they played it out with full conviction. When it comes to She Wants Revenge, however, they are without a sense of irony.
The depressed, neurotic girl at the center of “She Will Always Be a Broken Girl”, however, is a compelling figure. By keeping the narration solely in the girl’s head and his own sexual fantasies at bay, Warfield is able to craft a character portrait that doesn’t come across as strictly two-dimensional. Amidst a field of stolen Black Celebration-era keyboards, Warfield depicts a girl who has jitters before a big prom night, worried about everything from what she wears to what her parents think of her. It’s a compelling number, done as if it’s a musical sequel to the girl depicted in the Joaquin Phoenix-helmed clip for “Tear You Apart”.
Yet even with successes like “She Will Always Be a Broken Girl” and the Brian Eno-infected instrumental “All Those Moments”, This is Forever simply cannot get past its own self-imposed lack of evolution. “Checking Out”, for example, rides a wily guitar riff that comes across as nothing more than unimaginative. Warfield, in addition, seems to run out of lyrical steam as time rolls on, never rising above his spoken-word monotone. “Time disappears inside you / ‘til there’s nothing left but us”, he croons on “Pretend the World Has Ended”, a cryptic line that is as illogical as it is plain, all while lost amidst (again) a sea of synth-washes. At least the closing number “Rachael” kicks things up a notch by doubling the bass-drum over on itself in order to give it a little bit of an energy boost. Though it’s not as stunning a home-run as “Broken Girl”, at least “Rachael” still finds its way back to Warfield’s character-study strengths.
This perpetually-gloomy duo, however, will need more than just a couple of good songs to sustain themselves into the future. As it stands, they’ve done one fairly-good album followed by a shabby re-hash of said fairly-good album, and this does not a legacy make. Their hero-worship is as strong as ever, but until She Wants Revenge are comfortable crafting their own, distinct sound, they will have to live with a tag as unwanted as “one hit wonder”. Besides, when was playing it safe ever fun to begin with?