On the surface, there may not be much to differentiate one Muffs album from another, but the subtleties are there. After a spate of singles released on tastemaking indie labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Kim Shattuck & Co. took their bratty gumption to the next level in 1993, signing to Warner Bros., unleashing a near monumental debut LP, The Muffs. That record's punky ethos and yearnful, heart-on-sleeve reveries should have extended the then quartet's cult appeal to a national audience, but that would have to wait. The next Muffs salvo, Blonder and Blonder saw the light of day in 1995, boasting a slight curtailment of their debut's more primal elements, playing up Kim's vague girl-group flirtations without meddling with the Muff's proven recipe. And for a third act?
Happy Birthday to Me marked the Muffs last realistic stab at grasping the fabled "brass ring," and it came with a six-figure budget to aid and abet the trio of Shattuck, Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald (yes, of Red Kross renown) to crank their turbo pop machine over the top. Yet the band's third album (and first self-produced) wasn't an out-an-out departure from previous attempts, nor did it extend any palpable commercial overtures. The Muffs had the accessibility thing down from the get go, but now more than ever they had the songs. The Muffs may have showcased the band at their most iconic and identifiable, however Birthday demonstrated the band's growth, shedding some of the angsty, rough and tumble roar while keeping things plenty sassy. And yes, there are a lot of love songs on this one (what, you thought there weren't gonna be any?) yet Kim's pen is dipped in irony and even resignation, not so much spite and devastation. "Is it All Okay," "Where Only I Could Go," and yes, even the pointedly titled "I'm a Dick" all deserve a slot on any Muffs mix tape.
In the grand scheme of things, Happy Birthday didn't exactly shift the needle for the band's fortunes. I'm not even sure if it outsold the previous records. The Muffs stint with the WB was over after the album cycle, but more records and tours would follow. That's consolation in itself I suppose, but the real icing on the dessert? Twenty years after the fact, the partially feasted on chocolate cake in the inside back page of the booklet looks as scrumptious today as it did then. Omnivore's 2017 reissue features six album demos to sweeten the deal. Buy it direct, or move that cursor on over to iTunes or Amazon.
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