Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Album Review: House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want

Album Rating: B-
House of Heroes is not a band that's short of ambition. Their 2008 record Suburba fell somewhere between the spectrum of Relient K's pop-rock tendencies and Queen's delusions of grandeur. The group even tackled the Beatles, the kings of bombastic power chords, on an EP. So why is Cold Hard Want an album that's lacking in heart?

Maybe it's because the band's newest album is an unabashed leap into the radio rock fray. The guitar licks on "Out My Way" wash over listeners in wheedling waves and singer Tim Skipper's voice is strong as ever on the chorus, but the track's verses lack ambition and just sort of meander until the chorus kicks in. And it doesn't stop there. "Dance (Blow it All Away)" has a driving chorus, motored along by some slick guitar riffs, but its verses sound like a bad Jimmy Eat World B-side. It's not a bad song: but long-time fans know that House of Heroes is more than capable of much, much more.

From most other bands, the gang vocal-laden "Remember the Empire" and John Mayer reminiscent ballad "We Were Giants" would be serviceable stabs at writing mainstream-friendly tunes. But the tracks feel like a watered down House of Heroes: a House of Heroes that never penned blockbuster The End is Not the End. Gone is the carefree exuberance that made their eccentric brand of pop-rock catchy and endearing. The band traded it in for a grimmer demeanor and no-frills attitude, especially on dreary, acoustic "The Cop."

There are still flashes of brilliance, though. "A Man Who's Not Afraid" and "Curtains" are performed a cappella and are stunningly haunting. "I Am a Symbol" is a slow building, triumphant closer. But for every massive hook Skipper sings on "Comfort Trap," there's a weepy wannabe Thriving Ivory karaoke band on "Angels of the Night."

The music industry is a cold, hard place. Creativity usually gets a slap on the wrist in favor of marketability. Quirks get produced over and bombast for the sake of sheer, joyful bombast is all but frowned upon. But that creativity, that quirkiness and that bombast are all calling cards for House of Heroes. It's what made Suburba so well-crafted and, in its own right, special. Glimmers of it are speckled throughout, but Cold Hard Want syringed out almost all of what made the band so dynamic.

If this was House of Heroes swing for alternative radio stardom, they just took a big swing and a miss at a pitch way outside the strike zone. Fans probably weren't looking for Suburba, Part 2, but for anyone who cracked a smile at House of Heroes boldly waving the goofy pop-rock banner, Cold Hard Want is a cold, hard disappointment.


1. A Man Who’s Not Afraid
2. Out My Way
3. Dance (Blow It All Away)
4. Remember the Empire
5. We Were Giants
6. The Cop
7. Comfort Trap
8. Touch This Light
9. Angels of Night
10. Stay
11. Suspect
12. Curtains
13. I Am a Symbol


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