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Album Reviews: Elevator by Hot Hot HeatAfter finishing the follow-up to their breakout album Make Up the Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat lost guitarist Dante DeCaro, but there's something even more crucial missing from Elevator: charismatic songwriting. Make Up the Breakdown was bursting with it; each song took their new wave/post-punk/pop influences in breathlessly twisty, wordy, unexpected directions. That album was also a model of economy, packing a huge amount of ideas and energy into a svelte 10-song tracklisting. Elevator, Hot Hot Heat's Sire Records debut, is also pretty speedy, burning through 15 tracks in just under 38 minutes, but its fast pace doesn't hide the fact that its songs just aren't as interesting as they could be (and especially in comparison to Make Up the Breakdown). On first listen, tracks like "Goodnight Goodnight" and "Jingle Jangle" seem like they should be as wiry and witty as the band's best material, but they -- and too much of the rest of Elevator -- just don't stick.
The lack of memorable songwriting is the album's biggest problem, but Elevator's glossy, fussy production (courtesy of Dave Sardy, who usually has a golden touch with this kind of music and seemed like a perfect fit for Hot Hot Heat on paper) runs a close second. The spiky urgency that added an extra punch to the band's insanely catchy melodies is softened and blunted, and once again, the fullness of the sound doesn't disguise the fact that a lot of the songs here feel underdeveloped.
However, there are a flashes of Hot Hot Heat's breathless pop brilliance: the panicky opener "Running Out of Time" and pouty single "You Owe Me an IOU" are just as hooky and smart as Hot Hot Heat's previous bests. With its choppy verses and sunny choruses, "Island of the Honest Man" opens up the band's sound and is one of the few tracks (along with "Elevator" itself) that actually makes good use of the album's expansive production. Elevator improves on its second half, where a string of moody, almost-ballads like "Middle of Nowhere," "Dirty Mouth," "Soldier in a Box" and the title track bring some much-needed edge and focus, though it comes almost too late. The album has enough really good songs for an amazing mini-album or EP (and indeed, the band's Knock Knock Knock EP remains a high point in Hot Hot Heat's discography).
While it's far from being truly bad, Elevator is a disappointment, and a perplexing one: everything seems to be more or less in the right place, but still doesn't quite fit together. Unfortunately, it's a case where a so-so album is almost worse -- and definitely more frustrating -- than an outright disaster. - Heather Phares, All Music Guide
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