The 10th studio album from garage rockers The Birthday came as no surprise. The band has been putting out albums regularly since 2006 debut “Rollers Romantics,” and has also issued around 20 singles in that time. Selling out venues across the country regularly, the group is also a constant touring entity.
Yet, despite most of the band members beginning to show their age (three of the four are around 50), the songwriting never slows down and the recording never stops. The latest LP, “Vivian Killers,” is classic The Birthday fare, which is no bad thing.
The band was born from the ashes of singer Yusuke Chiba and drummer Kazuyuki Kuhara’s previous band, the curiously named Thee Michelle Gun Elephant (TMGE), which enjoyed wide success in the 1990s and early 2000s, and “Vivian Killers” certainly harks back to earlier glories at times.
The guitar on “Kiss Me Maggie” could almost be the late Futoshi Abe, if you closed your eyes, and the vocal line is classic 2001 TMGE. “The Answer” also channels that band too with its rolling drums, slow chorus and all-too-brief guitar solo.
Chiba, who acts as lyricist and songwriter for the band, has always had a penchant for dropping Western women’s names into his songs — Jenny, Sharon, Alicia — and album opener “Love in the Sky With Dorothy,” continues in this vein. Whether the title is a deliberate Beatles reference or not is open to interpretation, but musically it is a short, sharp opener, made for singing along to with its title repeated over and over.
One thing this album does deliver is crowd-friendly fare. “Oh Baby!” and “Aozora” will surely be played on tour this May, June and July, with the former being prime set-closer material, and the latter being one of the strong points of the album with its moody, bass-led intro from Haruki Hirai and Kenji Fujii’s mimimal guitar work. The song builds to a powerful, heroic chorus with twin vocals, before dropping back into the bass groove.
Chiba’s trademark “20-a-day” rasping vocals really shine on this album, particularly on tracks such as “Pop Corn” and “Flower.” The former finds the vocalist spewing out his lyrics in full sneering mode, complete with rolled R’s aplenty. “Flower” acts as the album’s spirit lifter, with a lyric that namechecks John Lennon belted out with gusto.
Every album from The Birthday has a moody five- or six-minute epic, and “Vivian Killers” is no different, although sadly it proves to be this record’s weakest point. “Hoshi Furu Yoru Ni” is quiet and contemplative for its first half, during which time you’re praying for something to happen. When the guitars and drums crash in at the halfway mark, it’s something of an anticlimax. Even a tempo change doesn’t help, as by that time the guitars have become faintly annoying.
But with this band’s albums, there’s often an oddity thrown in for good measure to show off the group’s range of influences. “Dusty Boy Dusty Girl” opens with a pumping rockabilly bass line and some great guitar work during the verse, before leaping into the chorus with its “Dusty Boy! Dusty Girl!” call and response dual vocal.
While this album is undoubtedly solid stuff with plenty of high points (and a couple of lows), it just lacks that one killer tune to lift it above being forgettable among the rest of The Birthday’s back catalog.