In following up their 2002 breakthrough Make Up The Breakdown, Canada’s
Hot Hot Heat had a difficult task – to meet the inevitable expectations that
come after making a great album. Breakdown was such a leap forward from
their borderline unlistenable debut Scenes One Through Thirteen, it’s
hard not to expect the same leap here. Elevator does pick up where
Breakdown left off and while it meets my somewhat tempered expectations,
it’s not able to exceed them.
For fans of Breakdown, that infectious sound is still there. Hot Hot Heat
has the proven ability to write catchy, new wave-infused rock songs and, on
Elevator, this talent is still obvious. In an inspired act, the band freely
distributed their first single “Goodnight, Goodnight” from their website. It’s
one of the several songs on Elevator about a breakup and while it’s not
the band’s best work, lyrics like “you’re embarrassing me / you’re embarrassing
you” show that the wit is still there. There are several tracks that will have
you singing along immediately – “Dirty Mouth,” “You Owe Me An IOU” and “Island
Of The Honest Man” are instant HHH classics.
It’s clear that keyboardist Steve Bays’ vocals now have the confidence of a hit
record behind them, but it’s not clear if that’s actually a good thing. He’s
over the top at times, but keeps it reined in for most of the album. As with
Breakdown, the production successfully walks the fine line between sounding
too polished and sounding too raw. They found a good formula with Breakdown
and, wisely, did their best to replicate it.
The band steps out of character and takes a breather from their usual breakneck
pace on “Ladies and Gentlemen” and the Talking Heads-ish “Middle of Nowhere,”
though the latter works better than the former. Of all the tracks, “Shame On
You” sounds the most retro and it quickens the pulse with its funky groove and
catchy vocals. Finally, the title track uses a slower tempo and a Middle Eastern
melody to bring the album to an almost somber close. With vulnerable lyrics like
“don’t take me up / I’ll just fall down once again” one wonders if Bays himself
wants his fans to keep their expectations at a reasonable level. I did just that
and while I’m not disappointed, I’m not blown away, either.
Key tracks: “Goodnight, Goodnight”, “Dirty Mouth”, “You Owe Me An IOU”, “Island
Of The Honest Man”, “Shame On You”, “Middle Of Nowhere”