CD Review of Destroy the Heart by Destroy the Heart
Recommended if you like
Material Issue, Shoes, Tommy Keene
Label
Home Taping Is Killing Music
Destroy the Heart:
Destroy the Heart

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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F
or connoisseurs of ‘80s power pop, Darren Robbins has long been a cult figure – a coulda-shoulda tragedy along the lines of Great Buildings or the Three O’Clock. His 1987 debut, Darren Robbins Steals Your Girlfriend, was an indie-level success that seemed to point the way to bigger things, but you know the story – bad luck, bad timing, and bad habits chased him out of the late ‘80s Midwestern scene (also home to Material Issue and Urge Overkill, both of which shared bills with Robbins), and for the better part of a decade, his music career was in cold storage.

Cut to the late ‘90s, when a pair of new albums (under the guise of Time Bomb Symphony) seemingly signaled Robbins’ return. By all rights, 1997’s If You See Kay and 2000’s Rules Get Broken – both well-received critically – should have been the beginning of a prolific second act, but again, Robbins wound up star-crossed, sidelined by various crises (including a serious health scare) for most of the double aughts.

Still, even now, the mention of Robbins’ name is as likely as not to provoke quizzical looks and “Hey, wasn’t he…” responses from music nerds, which is why it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t spent the last few years building a Linda Perry or Butch Walker-type career, producing and/or sweetening other artists’ wares. Instead, he’s apparently switched “band” names again, from Time Bomb Symphony to Destroy the Heart, and has been working on getting these 10 tracks into fighting shape.

The album’s biggest (and most pleasant) surprise is that it sounds like it could have been recorded a year or two after Steals Your Girlfriend – or a decade before. Trying to pretend the last 30 years never happened isn’t anything new for power pop records, of course; the difference here is that Robbins and producer Adam Schmitt actually manage to pull it off. The drums are dry and punchy, the guitars sharp and wiry, the vocals soaked in vinegar and honey – you can close your eyes and pretend Rockpile never broke up, and Cheap Trick never recorded “The Flame.”

Happily, the songs live up to the production. Though Robbins occasionally wanders off-track – “All in Your Mind” goes on far too long, for instance (a problem highlighted by the inclusion of a tacked-on “radio edit” at the end of the record) – there really isn’t a dud in the bunch. Robbins’ adenoidal vocals might be a bit of an acquired taste, but with hooks like these, you’ll be too busy cranking up the volume and singing along to notice. And if you’ve got any Tommy Keene or Shoes records in your collection, forget about getting this thing out of your CD player for at least the next three months. Let’s just hope the next one doesn’t take another eight years.

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