The Exploding Hearts

Guitar Romantic

(Dirtnap; 2002)

By Scott Reid | 9 April 2002

Sporting cover art that looks like it was created on an early ’90s freeware graphics program that was outdated even in 1994, Guitar Romantic gives you an immediate sense of what to expect inside. As harbingers go, this one is pretty hideous, but also remarkably close to what you actually get from the product: campy power-pop/punk from a band with members that want to look and sound like the bands they grew up loving. So it might be easy, just by passively listening to the album or coming across its cover randomly, to assume that the Hearts are just another garage rock/neo-punk hybrid without substance,
but I guess its cases like this that the old adage "don’t judge a book
by its cover" came about.

The Exploding Hearts are able to succeed where so many others like them fail and fail horribly: tongue placed firmly in cheek, Guitar Romantic removes any trace of "me, too!" from their sound and end up with ten tracks that are as fun as they are refreshing. The vocals are straight out of the British punk movement, but unlike the other twenty thousand bands that have taking this angle, the songs don’t suck.

Guitar Romantic is a consistently well-written and fun power pop album that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Yes, it’s another retro-sounding neo punk album without much originality to separate them from their forefathers, but I sincerely doubt that’s what the Hearts were going for with Guitar Romantic. As an ode to early ’80s punk-pop, though, it’s a remarkable achievement and one which no doubt will garner the band a strong cult following.

The care-free ease of these songs is a large part of their appeal. "Modern Kicks," "I’m a Pretender" and "Thorns in Roses" easily could’ve been big hits had they come out twenty years earlier, and though I’m sure they’d hate to hear this, "Throwaway Style" would’ve even fit nicely on Is This It. "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades" sounds like a Bay City Rollers cover with its irresistable chorus hook. "Rumours in Town" is one of the better tracks here, consisting of — as they put it — "100% pop."

Of course, it doesn’t all work as well as "Rumours in Town" or "Modern Kicks." "You’re Black and Blue," "Jailbird" and album closer "Still Crazy" all lack the same level of power-pop excellence as the songs surrounding them, slightly hindering the flow of the album and ending the album with its two weakest songs is clearly a poor move. Guitar Romantic starts off so strong that I guess we shouldn’t realistically expect it to end on the same level, but the underwhelming end to this highly enjoyable album is one of the few real complaints I have. The lack of originality is clear but hardly something I can hold against an album that doesn’t claim to be anything except a fun and enjoyable set of nostalgia. Their talent doesn’t seem striking enough at this point to assume that they may grow a voice of their own in the future or secure Guitar Romantic as something that I’ll even care about in a year or two, but this is the fleeting world of pop music, and it certainly follows through with an immediate thrill or two for the time being. As long as that’s all I ever ask from Guitar Romantic, it’ll never disappoint.