20 years of the Misfits’ American Psycho

For the most part, everyone already knows the scoop on American Psycho; after years of bitter legal disputes with Glenn Danzig, bassist Jerry Only was finally given the rights to record and perform under the Misfits name.  Recruiting new drummer Dr. Chud and vocalist Michale Graves along with longtime guitarist/Only’s brother Doyle, the resurrected Misfits signed with Geffen records and released their first album in nearly a decade-and-a-half.  End of history lesson.

As it turns out, I actually missed the album’s twentieth anniversary by a few months, but I haven’t seen any pieces about it on other blogs, so better late than never because someone’s gotta do it, dammit.  I mentioned in my How the Gods Kill anniversary piece that all of these anniversaries were starting to make me feel old… it seems surreal that I’ve been listening to this one since I was a junior in high school.

Even at that young age, I was already well-versed in the Danzig-era Misfits by the time American Psycho came out (not to mention already a drooling Danzig fanboy), so naturally I was skeptical of the Misfits minus the Evil Elvis.  But being a teenager from Mars with a nice chunk of disposable income thanks to my job as a stock boy at the local grocery store (and zero responsibilities), I bought the damn thing anyway without hearing so much as a single track; ah, the good old days when you just blindly bought CDs from your favorite artists and prayed for the best.

When I got home and cranked up American Psycho on my tiny all-in-one stereo system, I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I heard.  Sure it was very different from the original Misfits, but it was heavy, catchy, well-produced and above all fun to listen to; I didn’t ask for much more than that as a teenager and quite frankly I still don’t.  The album is positively loaded front-to-back with ear-worms such as “Speak of the Devil” “Shining” and “Don’t Open ’til Doomsday;” it’s basically a how-to manual for writing punchy, metallic punk songs that lodge themselves in your skull for days on end.

Of course, most consider the stand-out track to be “Dig Up Her Bones,” and it is pretty much a perfect song in that manages to be poppy and heavy and macabre all at the same time.  How this song didn’t overtake the hard rock airwaves with the Geffen Records machine behind it is anyone’s guess, although truth be told I don’t recall there being much happening in the way of promotion for the Misfits’ return; I was a voracious reader of music magazines (remember those?) at the time, I seem to recall maybe seeing one short article after the album had already been released and zero advertisements.  Whatever the case, “Dig Up Her Bones” still to this day feels like a missed opportunity to bring the Misfits into the contemporary rock the mainstream.

In terms of performances, it only takes one listen to the aforementioned “Dig Up Her Bones” (or just about any track on the album, really) to realize that American Psycho‘s not-so-secret weapon is Michale Graves.  The kid had some big shoes to fill and wisely chose to be himself instead of doing a Danzig impression; having a Danzig-clone fronting the band would’ve instantly killed the resurrected Misfits’ credibility, but Graves’ unique, flawless vocal work served to put the world on notice that this was a brand new era and not just an attempt to relive past glories.

American Psycho isn’t just unique in terms of vocals; the album has a distinctive heavy metal edge to it that the classic Misfits lacked.  In retrospect this was most likely Doyle’s influence, as aspects of his two solo albums sound quite similar to the heavier songs on American Psycho such as “Crimson Ghost” “Hate the Living, Love the Dead” and the title track.  However, the Misfits didn’t totally forsake their punk roots; the longest song on the album clocks in at only a hair over three minutes, each one a short sharp shock of horror-fueled songwriting economy.

American Psycho still holds up extremely well after two decades; although the Graves era of the band has yet to attain the same cult status as the original incarnation of the Misfits, it still has a lot to offer in the way of great songwriting with some interesting twists on their patented horror punk formula.  Even after all these years there’s likely still not much chance of convincing Danzig purists of the important place American Psycho holds in the bands’ discography, but it can’t be denied that the album helped put the Misfits back on the map and introduced them to scores of younger fans who would in turn go on to discover their classic ’70s and ’80s material; that alone makes it a triumph.

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