Hot Hot Heat
erusing the “Power (and ‘Indie’) Pop” section of the immeasurable Encyclopædia of Vacuous Musico-Critical Analogs and Descriptors, one finds that the word “Sugar” gets its own damn subheading, a tooth-rotting, tummy-souring cornucopia of sucrose and glucose-related comparisons. It’s unclear when this word took on its metaphorical potency; even calling something “sweet” seems like a far different thing than “sugary,” or the dreaded sting of artifice in the word “saccharine,” though it’s impossible to behold even the simplest of cookies without understanding the correlation. Listening to Hot Hot Heat’s second full-length Elevator, it strikes that all this time we’ve been tugging at the opposite adjectives; the band’s blend of late 70’s/early 80’s hip-shaking blue-jean sheen and kid-rassling hysteria bears a distinct feeling of hypoglycemia, a dizzying absence of any nutritional value whatsoever.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the kind of music Hot Hot Heat makes. Nevertheless, bands have done it better, and it’s weirdly a pretty tough racket, considering the general hegemony of the sound to begin with. It’s innocent, neo-retro hyperactive guitar-based music (much like 2002’s Make Up The Breakdown), with a penchant for textbook cadences, conservative blasts of fuzzy guitar, cresting organ waves, and an allowable level of garage-bred scrappiness that seep through all-ages devil-may-care dance beats. The lyrics are largely ignorable (when they’re intelligible), which is a good thing. When they’re sub-par, they’re fairly memorable: galling poetry like the album-opening line “weightless, humorless conversation has filled me up like an old gas station, I’m wallowing in a pool of gasoline,” or “I was picked up and then dropped off in a culture counter-clockwise turned around” would be easier to ignore if they weren’t yelped with such confidence and conviction.
It’s not entirely pointless to charge that one might be overanalyzing the music they make by saying this—that’s partially true. Standards are standards though, and it’s not like cranking out a flurry of hooks with youthful verve should excuse a band from writing songs that are basically two-dimensional.
“Goodnight Goodnight” is probably the album’s best moment, a bitchy, stabbing piece of pop, pushed almost to the brink by the wild flailing of keyboardist and vocalist Steve Bays, wrapped up by a brief canon of giddy recorders bouncing off the walls of stuttering drums. Strangely, it’s Bays’s presence that’s often the most compelling, recklessly blurting out lyrics with a psycho-sunglassed possession that manages to be both relentlessly irritating and oddly charming.
It’s conflicting that the stretches of undiluted pleasures on this record conjure such a strong sense of anonymity. At times, it’s unclear whether or not you’re enjoying the sound of Hot Hot Heat or the General Sound of Carefree Youth who dug the first three Elvis Costello records (or early XTC even) but never bothered to read the lyric sheets, instead warming big smiles before a group high-five following a really sweet Friday night dance party, cutting and pasting musical modes with gleeful disregard. Elevator is in the interest of pure pleasure, free of presence, free of thought, free of depth, but also alarmingly silent on its own musical context (one area where the band might distinguish themselves). All apparent slagging aside, Elevator has its nice moments, showing a band with boundless energy and agility; it’s fun and fairly catchy. Ultimately though, it’s an amnesiac for itself, and an album whose fleeting charms fade into the vague haze of low blood sugar—the tiniest nibble that leaves you only wanting a real meal.