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Wax Idols - Happy Ending Music Album Reviews

Wax Idols - Happy Ending Music Album Reviews

Wax Idols complete their transformation from sardonic post-punks to theatrical goth-rock storytellers on an album that dares to take pleasure in confronting death.

Since their formation in 2011, Wax Idols have migrated from sardonic, hard-nosed post-punk territory to sweeping gothic melodrama. It’s not an unprecedented move: Listen to the Cure’s discography from Boys Don’t Cry to Disintegration, or Cocteau Twins’ from Garlands to Heaven or Las Vegas, and you’ll hear a similar evolution. Historically, goth rock tends to bloom over time; the longer a band lingers in the darkness, the more likely it is that compact, incisive social commentary will open up into lush, indulgent storytelling.

On their fourth album, Happy Ending, Wax Idols fully commit to their new aesthetic. Vocalist and bandleader Hether Fortune sings from the perspective of someone on the threshold between life and death; on some songs she’s about to die, while on others she’s just crossed over. By inhabiting this ghostly protagonist, she leads the group into their catchiest, most accessible period, where the hooks are big and the story arcs even bigger. Happy Ending is the first Wax Idols album that could easily be staged as a rock opera. Its boldness and dynamism lend the band a newly theatrical bent.

In true goth fashion, Fortune seems to draw the most energy from the darkest subjects. Although she wrote it in the aftermath of a brutal divorce, 2015’s American Tragic contained the purest pop hooks the band had ever recorded. Happy Ending furthers that trajectory, its melodies skewing more sweet than bitter. Vocally, this is a productive place for Fortune. While Wax Idols’ early albums No Future and Discipline + Desire caged her voice within a relatively narrow range, the new record lets her cut loose. “Oh God, I’m falling,” she howls on “Too Late.” On “Scream,” she belts out, "I’ll scream your name/With the only breath I have left,” elongating the chorus’ last two syllables for dramatic effect. Around her, drummer Rachel Travers, bassist Marisa Prietto, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Lightning whip up the band’s gloomy sound into a frenzy. The drums rain down fast and snare-heavy. The bass is full and round. The treble-rich guitars dance through their chords.

Wax Idols have long drawn comparisons to the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but the vocal strategies Fortune deploys here hew closer to Incubus’ Brandon Boyd or even Bono—singers who tend to emote by opening their throats wide and letting it all fall out. That singing style can sound inherently optimistic, as though stretching one’s voice to its limits were an act of faith, so a propulsive dissonance emerges between the fatalistic words Fortune sings and the bombast with which she sings them. The inevitability of death looms large over the record, yet Fortune pitches her voice upward in triumph, as though death itself weren't enough to erase her.

Even “Crashing,” whose lyrics orbit a suicide, sounds more victorious than despondent. “This life was never sweet enough for me,” Fortune sings, in a way that makes it easy to imagine her with a fist in the air—this existence is inadequate, so time to move onto the next one. On “Mausoleum,” she beckons, “Put your head upon my shoulder/And slide with me through my own slice of hell.” Her word choice here—“slide”—suggests a fluid, freeing afterlife, a sluice to the next state of being rather than a loop of perpetual suffering.

By framing death not as a narrative-ending cataclysm but as a state of being that is potentially freer than life, Wax Idols cut a new facet on goth rock’s morbid fascinations. It’s rare that a band so fixated on the macabre gets to have so much fun; even Misfits’ raucous murder-fests asked you to identify with the killer, not the deceased. But Wax Idols tease out a liberatory streak in material where other acts might only find nihilism. The deaths they paint on Happy Ending don't inspire hopelessness. This isn’t a record transcribed from the raw edge of suicidal urges, and it doesn’t ask for direct sympathy with the desire to die. Instead, it shakes off the weight that accumulates around death when it is considered unspeakable. It confronts a culture that deals in death while refusing to acknowledge its reality. It lights up dark corners usually shadowed by fear, and in dancing inside the abyss, it grants permission to feel invincible.

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