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Friday, April 22, 2005

Review of 2 Albums By Retro-Neo-Groups That Were/Are(?) Hip

The Strokes: Is This It (released 2001)
Hot Hot Heat: Make Up The Breakdown (released 2002)

Now that I’m in the reviewing biz again I figured I should get groovy with what’s down with The Kids. This way I’d know what to avoid like a toothless crack whore. Then I’d look for bands that sound like something I’d like. The Strokes and Hot Hot Heat came with an implied pedigree I could live with, so here we are.

The Strokes (homepage) were touted as the 70’s NYC scene revisited, and against my snooty will I found I liked Is This It a whole lot. The drumming blends together more than it should but you can pogo ‘til you plotz and the rhythms are so peppy they induce Happy Happy Joy Joy. The bass lines are stupendous. If Television gets tossed around as an influence it’s not to say Television was that good. They were important though, and isn’t that important? What The Strokes do is apply the lesson of The Ramones to Television. Keep a steady beat and have the whole song be a catchy chorus if possible. Googling influences of The Strokes I find The Velvet Underground pops up, but there’s zero VU to be found. I do know that “Someday” and “Last Night” are based on Bowie/Pop’s “Lust For Life”, a perfect song with as many uses as my drug of choice, A1.

Hot Hot Heat (homepage) was compared to early XTC, which really appealed to me since Andy Partridge’s guitar and singing from 78-82 are only appreciated at 18% of their actual worth. The opening track on Make Up The Breakdown, “Naked In The City Again”, mixes a few great XTC elements to make for me a perfect tribute. They’re not ripping off “Down In The Cockpit” more than a b-track that sounds like it. I’m humming but can’t place it yet. Other tracks use XTC bass lines and Barry Andrew’s piano, but there’s also influences from Big Country and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Some yutz at Amazon wrote this: “Imagine that it's 1980 and Joe Jackson, fresh from a voice lesson by Robert Smith, got together with members of the Police and the Clash to record some songs that Elvis Costello had written.” Oh, this is so wrong on so many levels. I lived it, man! In the ‘Nam of the clubs and record stores.

The first four songs are keepers. Hot Hot Heat throws everything against the wall, and sometimes only bits and pieces work. “Bandages” is an average song with a great chorus. “Talk To Me, Dance With Me” is a cowbell-rocker with a built-in ‘everybody clap your hands’ part. That’s not good. It makes me think of Lou Costello in Mexican Hayride where he dances the Mambo against his will whenever the music plays. Taking the album as a whole I’d say the biggest influence on Hot Hot Heat is actually Weezer and its off-shoot The Rentals.


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