Hot Hot Heat


(Sire; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2007

Why does it hurt so bad to like this album? I came out behind Hot Hot Heat’s 2003 slam dunk Make Up the Breakdown even stronger than most, constantly switching the disc from walkman to stereo, unwilling to separate myself from the winkingly hilarious lyrics, the ass-shaking pogo funk, and --- mother of God --- those choruses, each one a crystalline pop confection, so immediately familiar as to be drawn from the collective subconscious. I championed the album to the elitist indie snobs, the ignorant Frisbee-tossing white-hats, the photography majors I had a crush on, everyone. I paired myself with the album: like it and you and I can be friends, hate it and find someone else’s couch to pass out on.

Elevator’s the major label follow-up, drawing fire from the indie rock community and tepid praise from the mainstream. It’s my commission to settle in with either camp and just write about the damn album: either shit on it or get behind it, but make up my mind and get in or get out. Here’s the thing: I can’t.

Gone are guitarist Dante Decaro and Breakdown’s signature polyrhythmic Star Time! funk. These departures are significant: where the choruses have always been dominated by Steve Bays’ searing, nasal croon (alternately grating and endearing), Decaro’s jagged, buzzy riffs helped establish the dance-punk / new New Wave sound we’ve all come to know, love, and talk shit about. This puts the emphasis squarely on Bays’ melodic sensibilities, which, when firing on all cylinders, can be as infectious as Cuomo’s early days.

Single “Goodnight Goodnight” is hardly two minutes, but it’s a helluva firecracker that, after a salivating, leg-humping middle eight, blasts back into the chorus accompanied by a brilliant, lilting farfisa. “You Owe Me an IOU” is even better: Bays belts the Dexy’s Midnight Runners verses over tapdancing pianos and ska guitars, and the chorus is a shit-faced Rick Springfield jukebox anthem. Somewhere in Elevator, there’s an album this consistently strong waiting to get out.

But filler like “Middle of Nowhere” and “Jingle Jangle” aren’t on that album. These are the type of dramatic-but-half-baked songs that a killer riff could salvage (see Breadown’s “Talk to Me, Dance with Me”), but the back-and-forth two-tone song-closer that “Jingle Jangle” relies upon just ain’t the Monsters of Rock shit the song needs. And while “Ladies and Gentleman” moves with thumping urgency, it feels like Zeppelin playing Skynyrd: a mismatched cover of a shitty song played by a talented band. They play these tunes with vehemence, desperately searching for something that’s sadly lacking here.

So why do I still like this album? Maybe it’s because, despite the fact that it’s an obvious misstep from a band that seemed bulletproof (at least until I heard the embarrassing Scenes One Through Thirteen), it’s still a strong album with a lot more charm than, say, the Bravery or the Killers. And maybe this album is irrelevant in light of the Kaiser Chiefs’ debut, which hit the same dartboard with considerably greater accuracy. And, yeah, the title track kinda sounds like Bon Jovi. But I refuse to roast an album with songs like “Shame On You,” “Island of the Honest Man” or “IOU” on it. If this is what it sounds like when your favorite band sells out, then, hell, the new New Wave might not be so bad after all.