Review of the self-titled farewell album by Canadians Hot Hot Heat, written for (sic) Magazine.
“The final release from a band that has innovated the indie-rock scene since 2002 when they shook dancefloors with the release of their explosive debut album, Make Up The Breakdown, via legendary Seattle-based label Sub Pop Records,” reads the press release. The winning formula on Make Up The Breakdown for Vancouver’s Hot Hot Heat was to combine the North American punk-funk scene of that time with synth-driven, hook-filled pop music. Those dancefloors did indeed shake. Unfortunately for the band, standout track ‘Bandages’ was removed from BBC Radio 1′s UK playlist – apparently its title was too sensitive during the time of the allied forces invading Iraq – and with it the four-piece’s best chance of those dancefloors shaking in arenas as well as clubs.
The follow-up album, Elevator, was a long time in the making, which, coupled with sounding a watered-down version of its predecessor, meant that many had moved on and few took notice. Three further records on and still to reach the commercial or critical heights of Breakdown again, could the band’s epitaph be tinged with resignation and bitterness of what might have been, or is it determined to drag you in for some final shape-throwing before last orders?
It’s certainly reflective; ‘Some days were daydreams/Some days were sun beams… We were the sweet and the bitter’, sings vocalist and keyboard player Steve Bays on opening track ‘The Kid Who Stays In The Picture’. It won’t get you to your feet, although its mid-tempo stomp and signature melodies are pleasing enough. Such description could be applied throughout the album; there’s a shortage of spiky ‘No, Not Now’ rhythms to grab you but plenty of nice-enough pop hooks to pull you back in as you’re about to leave. ‘Modern Mind’ picks up the tempo, but its chorus is sadly forgotten by the time the lethargic ‘Pulling Levers’ rolls in, building to an equally weak vocal centrepiece. ‘Magnitude’ belies its title in length – at over five minutes an epic by Hot Hot Heat proportions – if not in musical adventure.
The second half of the album does mercifully burst into life with the jagged, punchy ‘Mayor of the City’ and the 129-second thrill of ‘Alaskan Midnight Sun’, the latter of which brings back memories of vintage Hot Hot Heat, complete with Bays’ unique syncopated, beating vocal delivery in amongst his instant melodies.
Prior to the album’s strange choice of a closing track – the unusually experimental ‘The Memory’s Here’, which moodily simmers with Maccabees-style sparseness – two more tracks keep the pace up, ‘Comeback of the Century’ and ‘Sad Sad Situation’. Neither of these song titles quite sum up this final Hot Hot Heat album; there is not enough here signifying a return to that early-noughties form, but for the band’s fans – to whom this album is dedicated – there are certainly reminders of what initially drew them to that dancefloor in the first place.
~Hot Hot Heat is released via Kaw-Liga Records on Friday, 24th June 2016.~