It seems to me that Hot Hot Heat have always had one foot in the mainstream, and whether their fans knew it, or liked it, or whatever, the band was destined to be basking in the LA sunshine or walking along NY's Chelsea streets and rubbing elbows with the likes of The Strokes or The Mooney Suzuki. And look, it's not as if I never fully understood the criticisms leveled at Hot Hot Heat or anything, it's just that, to a certain degree, I see the evolution of the band as satisfying a pretty fundamental truth about the growth of any media enterprise. Just like a snake that has to shed its old ill fitting skin as it grows to maturity, so too do bands have to free themselves of their early adopters in order to reach another, much larger, record buying public. So for now, we'll leave "sell-out" completely out of our vocab and focus entirely on the tunes.
Unfortunately, it would appear that Hot Hot Heat haven't fully embraced their role as modern rock troubadours as much as I would like them to, as Happiness Ltd. feels like 2 steps back after last year's momentous 1 forward. Gone is the melody first songwriting ethos of earlier hits like "Goodnight Goodnight" and "Middle of Nowhere," left behind in favor of the vocal spasms and rhythmic aggressions that characterized their first album Make Up the Breakdown.
A difference you can feel right out of the gate, with "5 times out of 100," a raucous piano heavy blitzkrieg of a song whose whirlwind structure gave me a feeling equivalent to the bed spins as I listened to it first thing in the morning on my way to work. Next up "Conversation," which despite its quality chorus, sees singer Steve Bays sounding drunker than usual, slurring his way through verses with all the tones of an intoxicated Gwen Stefani. Despite these first missteps though, the third song, "Give Up," marks the album's first of three bonified hits which, as slick new wave pop confections, might tread a little too close to Bravery territory for many die hard fans. The standout of which is of course "Harmonicas and Tambourines," the group's forthcoming single, which at a breezy 2:50 manages to do absolutely everything a classic pop song should. Its lyrics are irreverent, the structure is tight, and it'll make a hell of a lot of girls dance, which seems to be the ranking criteria for evaluating how hard a song will hit these days.
But despite a couple of real gems, Happiness Ltd. sees Hot Hot Heat determined to have their cake and eat it too. It's a catch 22 to be sure, but they've fallen into the deathtrap of making an album which will alienate an indie crowd by catering too much to the mainstream just as it scares off less adventurous mainstream listeners by being too indie.
Review by: Chris Webster
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Here is the vid for their new single "Let Me In":
And the tune that started it all…sorta…"Talk To Me, Dance With Me":