Wax Idols – American Tragic

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2017-03-10

In the interest of full disclosure I need to preface my review with the following information. The conceit behind this rerelease of Wax Idols’ 2015 album, American Tragic, is apparently a limited-run audio cassette version of the album with an additional remix track added for good measure. This review is not of the cassette version but, instead, of digital audio files of the same songs. My assumption, having been the proud owner of hundreds of audio cassettes in the 1980-90s, is that these digital files are of better sonic quality than those on the cassette but, that said, I cannot be certain I’ve had the precise listening experience Wax Idols intended to offer.  

The first thing to know about Wax Idols is they’re dark – very dark. Imagine the lyrics of Robert Smith, sung by Siouxsie Sioux, with Love and Rockets as the back-up band and you’d have an approximation of American Tragic’s sound. While definitely derivative, American Tragic is also incredibly catchy, and immensely sonically pleasurable, even as bandleader Hether Fortune wails lines like: “Let the thunder take me under… No, I’m not going down!” It’s the pleasantness of Fortune’s pain which makes this record a highly dissonant listening experience. Rarely have darkness and gloom been so velvety and comfortable. Sonically speaking, American Tragic has as much in common with dark chocolate as it does with darkwave.

The first single from American Tragic, “Deborah” is at once a dark exploration of the romantic life of the song’s protagonist and a lovely little pop rock gem – said gem of course having been bedazzled with The Cure’s aquatic guitars, a pulse-pounding beat and a catchy chorus in which Fortune calls-out for the titular Deborah, over and over. In fact, readers would be hard-pressed to play this single and not have the “Deb-o-ruh, Deb-o-ruh,” chorus stuck in their head for days to come. It’s a great song and sets a high bar for the rest of the record. While American Tragic doesn’t always live up to the promise of “Deborah” it certainly has several shining moments throughout its ten tracks making Wax Idols a band to watch.

Much of the earlier press coverage of American Tragic centered on Hether Fortune’s then-fresh divorce and its clear impact on the album. That won’t be rehashed here other than to note that this is a breakup record to the nth degree. The album’s first track, “A Violent Transgression” makes this perfectly clear with its chorus of “Desire/ Its violent”. Similarly, track two, “Lonely You” mourns the death of a relationship: “But here I sit/ on this high hill/ wanting for you still/ Only you/ Lonely you”. On “At Any Moment” – a song reminiscent of a Dum Dum Girls update on the Cure’s “Close To Me” – Fortune seems to admonish herself as much as any former beau: “Didn’t I tell you this could die?/ Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I?/ Didn’t I say I could walk away at any moment?” The heartbreak on American Tragic bleeds into every song on the record, the blood providing a refreshing animus and vigor to what would be an otherwise mortuarial atmosphere.

There are definitely some clunkers on American Tragic – the silly Hot Topic Goth slink of “Glisten” and the stumbling ineptitude of “Deborah (Peter Remix)” immediately come to mind. For the most part though American Tragic will be an enjoyable listen for fans of everyone from PJ Harvey to Echo & the Bunnymen and even Blondie. Hether Fortune used American Tragic to showcase her range as a songwriter and musician as well as to pay tribute to the gothic/new wave bands she so clearly adores. Though at times a corny listening experience due to all of its weepy sentiment, and highly polished sound, American Tragic ultimately succeeds because, despite its theatricality, the pain on display is very real and the song craft so powerful.

Overall Rating (0)

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