[7 May 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When you make an album purely inspired by the works of horror maestro Dario Argento, there’s two ways you can go. You can either try to be as evil and creepy as possible, or you can be as fun and cheesy in the best grindhouse tradition that you can. Well, Belgium’s Joy As a Toy tries to have their brain cake and eat it too on their sophomore release, Dead As a Dodo, unsure of quite which direction to veer off in. That makes the record a little bit of a lumpy concoction, but when you have a disc that references zombies twice in titles – that would be “Zombie Safari” and “Love Zombie” (not counting a remix of the latter that also appears on the album) – you pretty much know what you’re in for here. Full of vintage anlog synths, punishing rock riffs and the odd well placed sample here and there, the full-on aural calamity of Ministry this quite ain’t. However, Dead As a Dodo is generally well done on its own terms, if you can overlook the oddly out of place squeezebox ballad “Hot Water (Acid Trip)” which actually stops the album dead cold.
Truthfully, Dead As a Dodo takes a bit of warming up to, as it is essentially on its own planet with all sorts of abstract weirdness and goofy humour – when they’re not trying to be menacing, as on “Mechanical Love” with its growled singing. Arguably the best thing on the record is “Successful Failure” – a spacey 90 second monster theme that sounds like it could have come directly from The Twilight Zone. In fact, its brevity is what makes it work: many of the songs here veer quite unnecessarily into the five and six minute mark, as though Joy As a Toy were trying to make miniature epics on the scale of George A. Romaro’s early works. That all said, if you’re a horror film buff and like a band to attempt to frighten you in often cartoonish ways, Dead As a Dodo might be just the thing for you. For the rest of the (non living dead) population, Dead As a Dodo is simply an interesting curio that could have benefited from a clearer focus. Aiming for the heart of a drive-in, Dead As a Dodo is just a B-movie venture into the rapidly beating heart of horror.