The Muffs have finally grown up. They offer their third full-length album,
Happy Birthday To Me, as proof of that fact. Gone are the
trademark tantrum screams of vocalist Kim Shattuck, replaced with more
complex melodies and intricate guitar parts. Thankfully though, not all
the brattiness has disappeared, despite the maturation of the band, as the
punk element is still alive and kicking.
With 1995's Blonder and Blonder The Muffs established themselves as
a major punk force, backed by over 4 years of infamous live shows and
several strong singles. Now Happy Birthday To Me proves that
they've reached a zone with their three piece pop punk attack.
Songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Shattuck led the band in producing the
album. The guitar, bass and drum tracks were engineered by Steve Holroyd
and Sally Browder (Rocket From The Crypt, Clawhammer), while Shattuck
herself took on the task of recording the vocals from her home studio.
This unorthadox recording method accounts for the spontaneous sound of the
vocal tracks. Producing it themselves gave the band greater control over
the album, and what emerges are bigger guitars, louder bass lines and and
over-all warmer sound to the recording.
The cool thing about The Muffs songs is that they are so damn catchy. Some
especially good tracks are "Pennywhore", "I'm a Dick" and "The Best Time."
Though, truth be told, the songs are all such quality pop product that its
hard to choose the best of the lot.
Shattuck has a one of the most distinctive female voices in punk today.
Growly and scowly she somehow manages to carry vocal lines so melodiously
pleasant its almost paradoxical. Whether screaming, humming or singing,
Shattuck hits nary a sour note, a rather remarkable feat for a credible
"Crush Me" the album opener, features a neat synthy-sounding solo and
lyrics that are scathing but bittersweet: "Crush me / by the way / I'm not
pathetic okay.../ Crush me and / I tell you / I sense this depression is
"My Crazy Afternoon" starts off with a faintly AC/DC-esque riff, accented
by drumstick hits liberally added in by drummer Roy McDonald. I can make
no comment on the lyrics to this song though, as they are completely
indecipherable. However, I can attest to the catchiness of the chorus,
which has that fun quality which allows one to sing along even though one
has no idea what is being said.
Roy McDonald shows better control of his drumming skills on standout
drumming intros like "That Awful Man." Shattuck also seems to have a
better grip on both her vocal capabilities and her guitar handling. On
"Honeymoon", the albums third track, Shattuck kicks the song off with an
almost sweet sounding melody. "Any time / any place / yeah it's nice to
see your face / and its true that I could want you in the most obnoxious
This saccharrine sentiment is accompainied by quietly rythmic guitars
which soon give way to a banged out chorus of, "I need you, I need you,
honeymoon, yeah." Under normal circumstances this magic combination,
albeit spruced up with a bridge and guitar solo, would make for a pretty
formula song, but The Muffs present their songs with just enough attitude
and more than enough enthusiam to make the old formulas seem shiny and
Short is a key concept in all punk dittys and The Muffs take that to heart
spweing out 15 songs in under 40 minutes, the longest track clocking in at
just over 3 minutes and most averaging at around two.
"Is It All Okay?" features the best backup vocal parts on the album,
"ah-aahhhs" that call to mind girl groups from the '50s. "Pennywhore", the
next track, has The Muffs playing their first TK song.
Happy Birthday to Me is The Muffs most sophisticated album yet.
From slide guitar solos, like the one in "Outerspace", to the
almost-ballad "Where Only I Could Go", The Muffs show that they can use
the medium of punkrock to cover all the bases. Keep listening for The
Muff's supersecret unveiling of the "new jazz."