Review: Hot Hot Heat, Happiness LTD.
Hot Hot Heat is a four-piece out of British Columbia who had a series of successful EPs and albums on various indie labels before signing with Warner. “Happines LTD.” is their second major label CD.
The group began as one of the more noteworthy of the garage rock / new wave revisionst bands that flooded the market in the early 2000’s. “Happiness LTD.” has its foundation in this style of music but the group sounds like they’re trying to reach beyond their early boundaries to embrace a wider musical palette. “Outta Heart” and album closer “Waiting for Nothing” are ballads and, at least in the case of “Outta Heart” the band pulls it off. The CD would not have suffered had they decided to leave “Waiting for Nothing” in the can. “Good Day to Die” starts off with a drum intro that sounds like the lead in to one of the Phil Spector produced Crystals tunes and the song continues in that mode with layers of strings, percussion and handclaps.
While the moves into new territory are largely successful, the band’s greatest strength remains the bouncy, jagged, garage new wave music they have been doing since the beginning. They are strong on melodic hooks and rhythmically infectious music. It’s hard to liston to most of “Happiness LTD.” without moving and you find yourself singing their melody lines absent-mindedly at odd times.
Musically Hot Hot Heat is solid. They’re both tight and inventive in the studio which is a powerful combination. Many of the tunes have little added bits and treats like the backwards guitar that instantly invokes the Beatles on the fade out of “Harmonicas & Tambourines”. Where they may have something of a weakness is in the vocals. Singer and keyboard player Steve Bays is not a weak singer, not at all, but he sings in the adnoidal vocal style that is common among the new wave singers. On “Happiness LTD.” it sounds like he is moving toward a richer more nuanced vocal style. He may well get there but he’s not there yet and his voice is much more convincing when he’s bleating out “Frustration frustration / I hate this vacation” in “Give Up?” (a great tune) than he does when pouring out his lovesickness on the dreary “Waiting for Nothing”.
“Happiness LTD.” is a solid effort from a band that started strong and is moving to expand it’s musical compass. Although it has its ups and downs, the album indicates they have what it takes to succeed and provides both enjoyment now and reason to look forward to their next offering.
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