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Reviewed by David Medsker
The moves are understandable, but not because Island has something to hide: Love Is Dead is actually a neat little pop record, daring to go darker and weirder than your typical female pop singer would ever dream. Island’s main reservation must have been on the marketing side, because while it’s a neat little pop record, it’s also an odd little pop record. Those who may be drawn to Song A are likely to be completely turned off by Song B, while those who like Song B may like Song A but hate Song C, etc. It doesn’t quite gel as a whole, but the individual parts succeed in establishing Kerli as a musical force to be reckoned with. Pity she seems reluctant to accept where her true talent lies.
Kerli told us in an interview how much she hates being labeled as a Goth queen – and if that is the case, then she surely despises the persons responsible for the album’s artwork – but for a good chunk of the record, the shoe fits. The title track leads things off, and it is one dark, brooding song, like Evanescence’s Amy Lee channeling Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” (“I think you think of me when you’re beside her / Inside her.”) “Walking on Air” may have an upbeat chorus, but the verses are, well, she says it herself over and over: creepy. The ballad “Bulletproof” and its sky-high (though pitch-black) chorus will be the podcast song of choice for vulnerable high school girls the world over, while “Creep Show” sounds like Danny Elfman producing En Vogue. You read that right, Danny Elfman and En Vogue.
There are moments of light scattered throughout the gloom, though. “The Creationist” is bouncy, handclap-riddled pop, “Strange Boy” is Shiny Toy Guns-ish synth pop, and “Hurt Me” lands somewhere between Garbage and Curve. (She would be wise to explore this in greater depth on her next album.) The album does end on one gloomtastic note though, and that is the showstopping, Alanis-esque ballad “Fragile,” which explodes in the second half and employs an unforgettable bit of tape manipulation before breaking down to a simple acoustic guitar and piano. More over-the-top than overproduced, the song is not at all the kind of thing you’d expect from someone who’s being marketed as a pop artist.
And that’s just it – why does Kerli even want to play the pop game? Yes, she can do pop when she feels like it, as “The Creationist” will attest, but she’s so good at the darker, edgier fare that the attempts to make her more accessible betray her natural talents. Is she that deep in denial about what kind of artist she really is? It appears so, but if we’re lucky, Kerli will recognize this, pull a Ministry, and this will be her With Sympathy.