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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Hot Hot Heat
Sire Records

Rating: 5/10 ?

May 26, 2005
After the critical and popular reception of their debut LP for Sub Pop, Make Up the Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat seemed poised on the path of stardom and MTV rotation. Of course, the question is always "What's next?" and the pressure exponentially amps up when said "next" is being recorded for a major label. These Canadian 80s throwbacks left Sub Pop for Sire - a move that can only be assumed didn't leave the good folks at the Pop financially high and dry, as evidenced by the surplus cash that Nirvana brought in when they left the label for the big leagues.

As happens so often in cases like this, the follow-up is decidedly unremarkable; perhaps it isn't fair to pin this squarely on the shoulders of big-time funding from the record company conglomeration. After all, Modest Mouse made this transition with fire in belly intact, as did Built to Spill. Perhaps it's due more to the flash in the pan tendency of Hot Hot Heat, which may outweigh the substance one hopes is really the guts of the operation.

The new album, Elevator, is certainly full of hooks. That is one of the features, along with Steve Bays' almost comical (but endearing) caterwaul, that put many of the songs of Breakdown over the top - these elements provide something of a saving grace here. Case in point: the two lead singles are also two of the catchiest tracks on the record, most likely to induce a sing-a-long. "Goodnight Goodnight" is pure pop bliss, with Bays singing a loping melody fast and furious, cutting through an incredibly infectious breakdown of a bridge. "Middle of Nowhere" follows suit, its chorus focusing attention squarely in the midst of the 80s, not only in execution but also in melody and chord changes. However, the rest of the album feels tired and redundant with few exceptions.

Hot Hot Heat are at their best when they're emitting rays of pure power pop, as on the driving "Pickin' It Up," which comes on the heels of the boring semi-ballad, "Jingle Jangle." "Pickin' It Up" contains yet another mind-numbingly hooky chorus, which unfortunately contains really stupid lyrics - definitely not a strong point for the band. "Pickin' it up but then I put it back down", and on and on and on. How many times have similar words been sung?

"Island of the Honest Man" contains an onomatopoeic flurry of lyrics - Bays' attempt to inject some needed creativity into his writing - and it works for a little while. Try as he might, however, the last third of the record contains no songs of any real merit, leaving the listener feeling like Elevator was written in sequence; by the end of the session, the band has simply run out of good ideas.

Guitarist Dante DeCaro left the band soon after recording the record, but his guitar playing is definitely an attribute worth noting even if it's sunk deeply into the mix at times. Dustin Hawthorne's bass playing, prominent as ever, roots the songs, as does Bays' keyboard work, although perhaps less so than on previous efforts. The album's cover art is strangely reminiscent of N'Sync's No Strings Attached, showing the band attached to strings like hipster marionette puppets, a feat of stupid art direction unsurpassed. Elevator is worth a couple of listens for the zingers - the songs that you'll be humming hours later in spite of yourself - but overall, this follow-up doesn't follow suit with the energy and vitality that Hot Hot Heat showed on earlier efforts. With a little regrouping, they may be able to get back on track, but this time around falls short.

Reviewed by Jonah Flicker
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.

See other reviews by Jonah Flicker



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