In our willfully sarcastic, postmodern age, we sometimes become so impressed with our own wit that criticism of any particular band or album becomes less an opportunity to inform people than it is a chance at demonstrating how boundlessly hip we are. The poet W.H. Auden cautioned critics against writing reviews of bad books, because “it is not possible to review bad books without showing off.” The same applies to criticism of albums we do not particularly like—what is to be gained by banging a band around for the length of an entire review, other than to massage your own ego in a public forum? That is especially the case with a relatively new group called She Wants Revenge, a darkwave band hailing from the San Fernando Valley whose 2006 debut spawned a video directed by Joaquin Pheonix for the single “Tear You Apart” (as well as another video featuring Garbage’s Shirley Manson for “These Things.”)
The crime this band commits, apparently, is that they sound like other bands. “Come on, people,” some anonymous worm spews in an amazon.com review, “Spend your money and time on the Best Of Joy Division, Bauhaus, or Sisters Of Mercy instead of this recycled/redundant nonsense that’s basically a way for the band to pick up chicks.” Oh, how clever! How ingeniously “cheeky,” as my English friend used to say. Thank God you found this band to pick on, because we otherwise might never have known how interesting you are.
Then there’s always this kind of thing: “I picked this up for four bucks thinking I was getting a great deal, having heard that they were similar to the Killers and drew influences from the Cure. However after one listen, I put it aside and actually felt regret for parting with my $4.” But if it was a Cure or Killers album you wanted, why not buy a Cure or Killers album instead? It’s like picking up a volume of poems by some contemporary poet whom, you heard in passing, draws influence from Emily Dickinson–and then burning the book on your grill in the back, convulsing with guffaws of disdain as you douse it with gasoline and fumble for a blow torch in the shed because you didn’t find any Emily Dickinson poems in it. It’s called “crazy.” This is why comparing bands to one another can be as fatal a blow to both of them as the most acerbic (and, of course, incomparably clever) CD review.
She Wants Revenge: “Tear You Apart,” She Wants Revenge (2006)
If anything is more useless than reviewing those “bad books” Auden talks about, it’s criticizing a band for having influences–as if there is any such thing as a band whose sound and ideas do not at least in part derive from the work of prior groups. Criticism of She Wants Revenge as a derivative product of obvious influences is nonsense. Influence is an inescapable fact of the artistic process; a work of art that is entirely independent of all influence would have to consist of nothing more than utter silence. Simply put, it is impossible. All art derives from influence; great art does something new with it. Once this is recognized, the only possible legitimate criticism one can level at these guys is that their influences are too obvious, and that they therefore fail to achieve a sound of their own. This is a more rational criticism that, unlike the absurd and irrelevant complaint that She Wants Revenge are infuenced by other bands, actually has some grounding in logic and is open to a diversity of opinion.
The real test is this: are these guys able to incorporate their many influences into an original sound that they can rightly call their own? Many obviously feel that the debt She Wants Revenge owe to Devo, New Order, Interpol, etc. is so significant as to be distracting. But the vast majority of people who have seen them live–an opportunity I enjoyed recently when they opened for another great band called Electric Six–will come away from the show with the understanding that they are too good, too full of energy, and too certain of their creative identity to be tossed off as mere imitation.
Some bands do indeed fall prey to their influences, while others are able to blend them into a unique sound. She Wants Revenge do just that; they are talented players whose music is more textured, layered, sophisticated and fresh than most of the influences critics nail them to. I am certain that their debut marked the beginning of a fascinating creative journey for She Wants Revenge, and I know that there is more great music to come from these guys. Crybabies whose tastes are stuck in the 80s can feel free to dust off their 25-year-old Devo and Cure albums as I gladly set foot in the future of rock ‘n roll–and I won’t be looking back.