The Muffs spent a lot of time on the road after the release of 1995's Blonder and Blonder, and you can hear how that live work paid off on the band's third album, 1997's Happy Birthday to Me. This edition of the Muffs sounds noticeably tighter and tougher here, while still maintaining the sense of snarky fun that's always been at the heart of their music. Kim Shattuck's guitar work is big and bold enough to comfortably carry the hooky melodies, and bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald play with enough muscle to get the job done, but with a swing that keeps the tunes light on their feet. Happy Birthday to Me sounds leaner and more elemental than the Muffs' first two albums, in part thanks to the succinct tunes Shattuck brought to these sessions (six of them don't even crack the two-minute mark). But more than any of their studio albums, Happy Birthday to Me captures the buzz of a good live show, with the musicians bounding through the set with a sense of fun and a powerful focus. And like much the Muffs' best work, Happy Birthday to Me is engaging and exciting while dealing with some of the less appealing aspects of life and love; Shattuck displays a heart, soul, and point of view here that's honest and adult, acting as a solid complement to the teen appeal of the melodies. The Muffs produced Happy Birthday to Me themselves (with an engineering assist from Sally Browder and Steve Holroyd), and the results speak to their smarts about knowing what works for them. (And the fact Shattuck cut her vocals at home may have a lot to do with why her singing here has more nuance than on their first two LPs). Happy Birthday to Me failed to live up to sales expectations and proved to be the Muffs last album for a major label, but if there was a poppy punk band that deserved to grab the brass ring in the late '90s, it was this one, and this album captures them in excellent form.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming