Hot Hot Heat may have sealed their own fate—they could have struck while the iron was hot, gotten a follow-up (or at least a second single?) out while Make Up the Breakdown was at its buzz-garnering peak. Instead, they took their time and now, overrun by a glut of less-talented and infintely more successful bands, finally release their follow-up in an entirely different atmosphere then the band’s breakthrough was birthed into. Suddenly, to those unaware of Breakdown‘s kick-assedness, Hot Hot Heat are imitators; and Elevator is just another watered down nu wave album flooding the racks this year.
So yes, I am sad to admit, Elevator lobotomizes Make Up the Breakdown, turning down clever twists like the reggae bridge of “Bandages” and cowbell of “Talk to Me, Dance With Me” in what eventually amounts to the typical major-label debut. Absent is guitarist Dante DeCaro, the band’s brightest mind, and you can see his vision disappear with him. Spastic meter-changes and off-kilter harmonies are all but gone, with the lone exception, “Island of an Honest Man,” coincidentally being the album’s best track. As cliche as it may be, “polished” is the most applicable term here. The absence of DeCaro also seals Hot Hot Heat’s transition towards a guitar-rock band, as Bays’ Dexy-esque vocals are no longer supported with the Hammond organ that gave Make Up the Breakdown its flavor. Bays allows convention to take law, turning the ship towards well-traveled terrain.
The initial reaction to Elevator isn’t a negative one–the band seems like they’re having a lot more fun with this Costello-ian mix of power-pop, but these don’t have the legs to stand up for a considerable amount of time. All of the flaws that you’ll ignore all summer when you’re driving with the windows down with this album will slowly reveal themselves as the days grow colder. By November, you’ll be placing Elevator on the shelf. And you probably won’t be coming back to it, even next summer.
Fortunately, the album recovers from a pretty pitiful first half and gains momentum as it plays—starting with “Jingle Jangle”, the band begins to sound comfortable in its new skin. Which, after hearing the uninspired disaster “You Owe Me an IOU” is welcomed news. Though the newly laminated Hot Hot Heat sound is more instantly likeable and MTV-bound then their early material, the lack of grit hurts its prospects for future consideration. Elevator just isn’t essential—considering Hot Hot Heat’s prospects two years ago, when it seemed they’d be the flagship band for indie kids to get jiggy to, likeable and pleasant just aren’t the only adjectives that should be used to describe it.
It’s obvious the band is currently searching for a place to settle into, trying to please two completely different audiences at the same time. They’ve crafted a follow-up that acts like the center circle of a Venn diagram—Elevator marginally appeals to each audience without satiating either. To solve the situation is simple—in Bays’ own words, “get in our get out.” You can’t be indie saviors and mainstream darlings at the same time, not with an album as vanilla as this.