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Record Review: Hot Hot Heat

This story was published April 21, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

I’m a sucker for skinny white boys with ‘fros. I can honestly say that I bought Hot Hot Heat’s first album because I thought lead singer Steve Bays was, well, hot hot. Bays and most of the band sport shaggy, fro-ed out haircuts that only compliment their tight jeans and skate shoes. Dreamy!

Hot Hot Heat easily can be classified as 21st century New Wave — they’re in the same category as the Strokes, the Killers and Longwave, to name a few. Yet, somehow HHH accepts this classification and embraces it unabashedly. (I’m also a sucker for unabashed-ness.)

In 2002, HHH scored a minor hit with “Bandages,” a snappy song with cheerful guitars that highlighted Bays’ attention-grabbing vocal style. They quickly faded into the background as bands like the Hives and the White Stripes monopolized the media’s attention. Luckily, the Canadian quartet retained a small-but-loyal fan base in the States.

Their new release, Elevator, is a happy album. The jangly guitars are relaxed and often accompanied by acoustic backing parts, which tone down the sharpness. Bays’ voice is pleasant but difficult to describe; he wobbles between a whine and a wail, without the negative qualities of either. Sometimes he squeaks on the slide up to a high note, and sometimes he cracks on the growl of a low chorus, but it is the nuances and ultimate believability of his voice that draw listeners in. That, and the tight pants.

The first nine tracks of Elevator run together because of song similarity and the overuse of intros and outros. Track 10, “Middle of Nowhere,” has clean drum work, a catchy chorus and an oh-so-danceable beat. Lyrics such as “You didn’t have to do it/but you did it to say/that you didn’t have to do it/but you would anyway,” sung in Bays’ characteristic lilting pattern increase the album’s charm.

The following track, “Dirty Mouth,” is the most traditional on the album — it could have come straight from 2002’s Make up the Breakdown. You are led gently but confidently into the song, and then the chorus hits you like a wall of water. While you’re still reeling, Bays leaps into his signature quickly-spoken rap cadences.

The lyrics would be immature and aggravating in any other album, but Hot Hot Heat pulls them off effortlessly. Lines such as “Wash your dirty mouth/your dirty mouth/watch your little mouth” may come off a little harshly, but the amicable melody had me dancing and spinning in my room.

Wanna know what else I’m a sucker for? Hand claps. There is no better instrument for a rock song than a well-timed clap clap. You know what I’m talking about.

“Soldier in a Box” has claps a-plenty, interspersed between syncopated, metallic-sounding choruses of “Oh yeah, oh yeah!”

The last two tracks are also noteworthy: “Shame on You” sounds similar to Maroon 5 with a Latin beat and chugging guitars, while “Elevator” calls to mind the French Kicks plus Interpol plus piano.

Ultimately, Elevator is worth your time, if only because of the last five tracks. The 15-song album is only 38 minutes long, meaning even the low-quality tracks don’t have time to really get on your nerves.

Whether it’s hand claps, tight jeans or white boys with ‘fros, most top-40 fans will find something they like in Hot Hot Heat.

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