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Hot Hot Heat - Make Up The Breakdown

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Artist: Hot Hot Heat

Album: Make Up The Breakdown

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Oct. 23, 2002

Hot Hot in Herre

Nobody has saved rock and roll just yet. What we're experiencing now is a revival, a confused time of fours and fives of shaggy-haired boys from New York reminding us of a time when rock and roll was very much alive. Those who are purportedly saving it have really been setting it back to a time that we can all agree on, and starting again. It's not that these bands, with their monosyllabic names and their impeccably careless fashion, do not bring new idioms to rock with their music, it's just that it's hard not to pay more attention to their influential forefathers.

Fortunately for us, Hot Hot Heat (four shaggy-haired boys from British Columbia, actually) don't simply trot out their influences as so many of their contemporaries do. Instead, on Make Up The Breakdown, they present a formidable mix of them, incorporated as an important but not overwhelming part of the whole. What's more, their forefathers are refreshingly diverse: they draw just as much on the UK of the 80s as on the NY of the 70s, and throw in just enough of the HHH (well, okay, BC) of today to make Breakdown one of the few releases of the past year's supposed renaissance to rise above retreading rock's golden years and be entirely worthwhile on its own.

Breakdown is gleeful, digestible, and eminently enjoyable, just as the musical illuminati seem to be reminding us rock should be. At just over half an hour, the whole thing is a brief but energetic workout (no song except the diabolically Cure-like "In Cairo" reaches the four minute mark), and, thankfully, a raucous party rather than a history lesson. Jaunty and enthusiastic, songs like the keyboard-driven "No, Not Now" and the thumping "Get In Or Get Out" may be reminiscent of The Clash and XTC, but are by no means burdened by their legacies. (This even includes the organ-happy "Bandages," which smacks of the Specials but makes up for it in awesomeness.) Singer Steve Bays can imitate Robert Smith (and, at a few choice moments, Bono) with the best of them, but his erratic tenor comes across as more versatile than that of a mere imitator; the same goes for the rest of the band. They pay their respects, yes, but don't dwell in anybody's shadow.

Still, by the same token, the record has its share of songs that make it easy to see where the Strokes comparisons are bound to come in. In the best sense of the connotation this is true enough, as in the case of "Oh, Goddamnit"; the distant reverb of Bays's charmingly disaffected vocals and simplistic chorus recall "Last Nite" or "Hard To Explain." But, at the same time, the songs on Breakdown are layered with richer and more complex sounds, boasting much more diversity than Is This It, in terms of both instrumentation and recording technique.

There are also moments where the music becomes stale and the repetition of the lyrics begin to beat the song into the ground ("Talk To Me, Dance With Me"), but after three minutes at most a new one begins, clearly related but sufficiently different. The low points would be more of a concern if they weren't just lulls between the brighter parts that work so very well. But on the whole Breakdown is an overwhelmingly successful outing, and an impressive one at that: Hot Hot Heat credibly celebrate their influences without repeating them, and invoke the glory days of rock without being redundant.

History be damned. Make Up The Breakdown is a lot of fun. More cowbell.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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