Lizzy Borden is the original odd duck. He essentially reinvented Alice Cooper‘s brand of theatrical metal for the 80s with his over the top stage persona and Broadway-ready writing style. An early beneficiary of Metal Blade’s Metal Massacre compilation series, he used early albums like Love You to Pieces and Menace to Society to position himself as the hair metal King Diamond – more pomp than pentagrams, less Satan than satin, and though he could be hard to take seriously at times, the man had talent as a singer and writer. His 1989 Master of Disguise opus was very nearly the next Operation Mindcrime, but his penchant for musical theater shtick held back what was a very dark, intriguing album. After that the man drifted out of sight and mind, releasing just 2 albums between 1989 and 2018. The axe is finally back though, with his first album in eleven years, and very little has changed. My Midnight Things is the quintessential Lizzy album, mixing upbeat metal rockers with songs that almost force you to do jazz hands a soft shoe as they unspool. This is a man unconcerned with trends as he continues to do just what he wants, for better or worse. Put on your nice clothes, Cletus. We’re going to one of them fancy boy shows!
As is Lizzy’s wont, he shows he can still craft a rocking, catchy ditty right off the bat with the killer title track. It’s actually one of his best songs, with a driving tempo, more hooks than Pinhead and an ever so slightly malevolent energy that screams obsessive stalker. After such a long layoff, it’s great to hear the man in such high feather, and his voice has held up surprisingly well over the decades. He’s still that commanding, preening demon, full of drama and angst, but wanting his music to become radio staples forevermore. If he wrote more cuts like this one, he might just get his wish. It’s already found its way onto several Playlists o’ Steel and I’m fairly hung up on it1. Give me an album of cuts like this and you’d earn a shot at Album o’ the Year. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here.
“Obsessed With You” is another prototypical Lizzy song and it gets the hooks in you no matter how you squirm and resist. Album “single” “Long May They Haunt Us” has less pop and punch but it too will stick if exposure continues past one spin. It’s almost like Green Day variety recycled punk pop but with a darker edge2. It’s after this strong start that the wheels start to come off the Lizzy Limo. Though later cuts like “The Perfect Poison” work, “The Scar Across My Heart” and “Our Love is God” simply don’t connect or linger, and “Run Away with Me” feels like a B-side in need of reworking. The final third of the album is somewhat skippable for me, which is never a good sign, especially after such a strong start.
Lizzy the man does all the heavy lifting here, handling vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards. The guy is talented, and no one seriously disputes that, but his writing has always been inconsistent, and it’s the same story in 2018 as it was in 1983. That said, I’ve always loved his voice. He has a wild range and time seems to have dulled very little of it. In fact, it’s smoothed out the rougher edges and made him less shrill when he goes high. On the best tracks he’s utterly in command and elevates the material significantly. On some selections he seems to dial back his delivery too much, giving the music a flat affect and making the music less engaging.
Lizzy Borden is and always will be a creature of the 80s, and it would probably have been best if that was where his musical odyssey ended. His post 80s output hasn’t been awful, and he can still outperform expectations for brief moments of metal mania, but time and tide has moved past his style of Broadway-metal. I often dream of a new Cirith Ungol or Dark Angel album, but never wish for more Lizzy. Sometimes the style of music you cling to in the raging deluge of trends and evolving tastes is what consigns you to history and the cutout bin. I think that’s the fate in store for this man and his trusty axe. Rest in pieces.3