The Virgin-Whore Complex's debut album, Stay Away From My Mother, was a mostly lighthearted set of clever (if occasionally unbearably precious) indie pop songs. 1998's follow-up, Succumb, is a far darker and more disturbing work that can hardly be called cutesy. The opening "Speakerphone" sets the creepy tone, alternating a repetitive but catchy vocal hook by singers Spats Ransom and Debbie Fox with a tape-altered voice reading messages sent to San Francisco newspapers by the still-at-large '70s serial killer known as the Zodiac. The otherwise very pretty title track is even more disorienting, with Ransom sweetly singing lines like "Why not just go upstairs and slit the children's throats/Now, where'd a thought like that come from?" to a lilting tune. The melodies are more memorable, with "Casey" and "Papa Wilson" (about abusive Beach Boys dad Murry Wilson) particular standouts. The trio also features a newfound fascination with '60s pop, covering the girl group standard "The Coldest Night of the Year" with a straight face and puckishly dotting the belated song "Stay Away From My Mother" with the quirky vocal hook from the Zombies' "Time of the Season." The arrangements are lusher and more unusual, combining banjo, ukulele, pump organ, glockenspiel, and viola with more standard instruments. Neither Fox nor Ransom is a technically accomplished singer, though Ransom turns his shortcomings into virtues and Fox has an appealing sweetness that overcomes her occasionally unsteady pitch. Despite the sometimes disturbing subject matter, Succumb is an impressive album.
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason