Hot Hot Heat – Elevator

Hot Hot HeatElevator (Warner Brothers)

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.

Download “Goodnight Goodnight” from Insound.

5 thoughts on “Hot Hot Heat – Elevator”

  1. While I agree Elevator isn’t nearly as interesting as Make Up The Breakdown, it’s still a decent guitar pop album. Not mind blowing but it still has some very catchy stuff. Whether it sticks and becomes a long term favourite remains to be seen.

    I saw them play with Louis XIV (terrible! – can you say “caveman rock”? their music has all the complexity and imagination of banging 2 rocks together) and The Futureheads (AMAZING! AMAZING! AMAZING!) last week and they were just ok. But then compared to how well the Futureheads played even the Clash or Led Zeppelin would’ve been humbled. If you get a chance to see the Futureheads – DO IT! They absolutely blew me and my friends away.

  2. I can vouch for the Futureheads, they pretty much blew Louis XIV and HHH off the stage. Although to be fair, while they’re all in the same new-wavey musical neighbourhood they do each have their own style. (That said, Louis XIV’s flavour seems to be one part T.Rex, two parts Sweet; I honestly expected them to break out into Ballroom Blitz)

    I liked the way the new HHH songs came across. I would say the manic energy of the earlier songs has been toned down somewhat… the Costello comparisons seem valid. I have yet to give the new record a good solid listen.

  3. One small correction in Tom’s review…..Dante DeCaro left the band AFTER writing and recording Elevator, not beforehand. As evidence I cite:

    1. He is the only guitarist credited on the album.

    2. The band’s statement from Oct04 when he left:

    Dante has decided to leave Hot Hot Heat. We respect his decision, will miss him and he will always be a friend of the band. While Dante made his decision a while ago, he still co-wrote and recorded the new album with us and is as proud of it as we are. No decisions have been made as to who will fill the position. For now, we are focusing on wrapping up the new record for release next year and touring as soon as possible.

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