She Wants Revenge rings a bell and hits a nerve
If she wants revenge, it’s probably for bad press. Dance duo She Wants Revenge’s self-titled debut offered the world an eerily perfect reincarnation of ’80s synth-mope. Atop Adam “12” Bravin’s understated but urgent drum-machine beats, Justin Warfield voiced disaffected monotone dramas of dysfunctional love—peppered with enough references to S&M and thigh-high stockings to keep things edgy. The duo crossed every gothic-script “T” and dotted every eye with tear-streaked mascara. But the critics weren’t buying it.
Pitchfork labeled the songs “clubby goth-stompers that force Madchester scenery on unreceptive American audiences.” Rolling Stone called the band a “retro goth-pop duo that out Interpols Interpol … with a precision that borders on parody.” PopMatters figured “There’s no way these guys could be doing this with a straight face,” and put them down as “either the greatest tribute band in history or the biggest pranksters since Spinal Tap.”
She Wants Revenge was found guilty of possession on two counts: slavish devotion to its oft-cited influences, and the chops to replicate them. Had the band not managed the copycat act so nimbly, the gap in skill might pass for originality.
Warfield considered this verdict via cell phone from his Los Angeles recording studio. “It was clear once we started recording that it sounded quite a bit like the stuff we grew up on,” he said. “The most important time in our lives musically, we were 13 through 17, when all this music was coming out … records like Black Celebration and Violator and Strangeways, Here We Come and Disintegration and Head on the Door and All of This and Nothing and Purple Rain. We were tremendously influenced by the ’80s.”
Still, he refuses to serve a sentence as a parody act. “That’s the biggest misconception people have about our record,” Warfield said. “People have said it’s too good to be true and it was totally contrived and made in a laboratory. I think people are unwilling to accept the fact that maybe we just made a really great fucking record that touches people who lived in that time period.”
Thing is, listeners who “lived in that time period” may be the bands’ biggest skeptics. Amazon fan reviews show a strong contingent blasting the band for ripping off its influences—even as the same complainers can’t stop listening despite themselves. “I just don’t know how anyone could take this CD seriously,” the typical comment goes, “but then here I am reviewing it too.”
No surprise that now-grown ’80s goths, who embraced this subculture to bond with fellow mainstream shut-outs, feel weird hearing their underground ballads parroted back to them on the Late Show with David Letterman. This music wasn’t popular the first time around, which was a huge part of its appeal. The press can’t resist comparing Warfield to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, but Curtis killed himself. And now the same beats are shaking bikini-strung hips at Coachella?
Obviously She Wants Revenge does better with younger audiences who haven’t been around the New Order block. That’s thanks in part to savvy MySpace marketing, an 18-month nonstop tour, regular namedropping by Hot Topic’s official bloggers, and a hit video, directed by Joaquin Phoenix, that casts the duo as saviors of a teenage girl attacked by a mob at a high-school dance.
And so, requests for She Wants Revenge pour in at Asylum, Sacramento’s longest-running goth dance club. “There’s a whole new audience,” DJ Bryan Hawk said. “She Wants Revenge is this generation’s Depeche Mode.” (David Gahan might argue that Depeche Mode is this generation’s Depeche Mode, but whatever.)
This week, Shaun Slaughter launches Scandalous, his new weekly club at R15, as an after-party for She Wants Revenge’s Empire show. Rumors buzz of Warfield and Bravin as guest DJs.
“The press was so quick to judge us,” Warfield said, “but the truth is the kids have spoken and people like what we do.”
Living well is the best revenge.