There are going to be two schools of thought dealing with Hot Hot Heat’s major label debut, Elevator. School #1: For those who enjoyed the manic angst-driven yelping of Steve Bays, somewhat of a Geddy Lee and Robert Smith love child, or like a happy go-lucky At the Drive-In, you might notice that the vocals have been toned down a bit. On the other side of the same coin, if you also really enjoyed the pulse pounding rhythym section and keyboards, those have also been toned down, tightened up, and generally made more `adult.’ Whereas Make Up the Breakdown might have been their more `tweener’ album, Elevator is their attempt at convincing the parents that they are adults and deserve to take the car out on the weekends. School #2: For those who thought the above listed qualities of the band were tiresome and grating, Elevator is the sign of Hot Hot Heat finally polishing their act, writing solid and straightforward pop music, and overall simply getting their stuff together.
Halfway through the album, the change in Hot Hot Heat is nowhere more evident than with the song “Jingle Jangle.” The pace is slowed down, Bays’ voice takes a breath and steps back away from the precipice of frenzy. Fans of Breakdown need not fret, however. This is still your beloved Victoria band and the voice is still unmistakable. What has happened can be boiled down to this, whereas the early HHH releases were far more influenced by current trends and styles, the band has reached back into their collective histories (although a lot of it was from before they were even born) and taken a page from the books of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and Nick Lowe. “Pickin’ it Up” combines the Attractions-style keyboards of This Year’s Model with the call and response of Rocket From the Crypt.
“Island of the Honest Man” is the one song on the album that could have been an outtake from Breakdown. But even this song, rather than taking the chorus to an even faster pace, like their earlier songs would have, it slows down and focuses on the vocals, sounding like a higher voiced version of Green Day. In fact, Billie Joe Armstrong and company might be the most apt comparison for this band and this album. Does everybody remember the silliness and harried pace of Dookie and the Lookout records before them? Then, somewhere and somehow, Green Day grew up (sort of) and started writing songs that became graduation and prom staples. “Middle of Nowhere” is a great example of that type of songwriting. Things are slowed down to a crawl, nowhere is the bounciness that made the band so fun and invigorating. But the song could definitely be a Top 40 hit despite the loss.
The trio of “Island,” “Middle,” and then “Dirty Mouth” contradicts the first half of the album in that Bays’ voice now could be mistaken for someone else’s. The music is still compelling, with organs that embellish head nodding beats, akin to either Robbers on High Street or Spoon. I don’t quite know what to say about “Shame On You,” in my opinion one of the few big missteps on this album. I expected a little more out of the band and producer Dave Sardy (Walkmen, Thrills) instead of a song so closely resembling Maroon 5. If this song becomes a single, I’ll know why, and then I assume that the tour with the aformentioned Maroon and Dashboard Confessional is just around the corner. Closer “Elevator” does save the album from ending on a sour note, rounding out the album with a little bit of a Muse as their muse. (Sorry, had to write it). The piano rather than organ, combined with the processed background vocals, and the epic feel sound like something out of the apocalyptic Absolution, and it sounds good.
For you sad Northwesterners who are seeing yet another band jump to a major, you might have to listen a few times to decide whether or not you’re satisfied with the move. After all, Nirvana made the leap successfully, Built to Spill and Modest Mouse turned out okay, and I doubt people will stop listening to Death Cab for Cutie, so buck up sad sacks! Hot Hot Heat are still the friend you had in high school, its just that they moved to another town, got a job, and you don’t see them as often, but when you do, its as if no time has passed, and you can still reminisce about the old times.
Robbers on High Street- (Tree City)
Spoon- Kill the Moonlight
Franz Ferdinand- Darts of Pleasure EP