Hot Hot Heat – Make Up The Breakdown

I first heard this band on an NME Punk’s Not Dead compilation from the early 2000s, an album that lined up punk’s newest heirs- The Hives, The Strokes and Part Chimp (really!) – against the original lords of the manor, with fairly predictable results, at least to the ears of an aging Brit who grew up on The Clash, The Ramones and The Damned. But even sandwiched between punk gold Neat, Neat and Another Girl, Another Planet, Hot Hot Heat hit me straight between the eyes.  Get In or Get Out begins with a drum kit falling down the stairs, a handful of anxiously chopped chords and then vocalist Steve Bays bursts into the studio, breathlessly sharing his consternation about some unnamed character daring to leave town. Throw in a gorgeous organ solo in the middle and great vocal hooks throughout and I knew I had to hear more. The band in this one song brought to mind so many great new wave bands- the punk funk of early XTC, the adrenalin soaked keyboards of Elvis Costello Pumping It Up, the impassioned, imploring vocal delivery of early Dexies and the jerky, dance-floor freak rhythm and repetition of vintage Devo. All good sources to be sure, and not ones that had been underused in the intervening years, but to hear a new group bring all these impeccable influences together in one song, and still sound so coherent and so themselves put a huge smile on my face at the thrill of their unlikely success.

When I got my hands on debut album Make Up The Breakdown a few days later, the thrills just kept on coming. Opener Naked in the City Again is bursting with hooks and ideas, vocalist Steve Bays grabbing the mike before the rest of the band have even plugged in but they soon catch up, rhythmic repetition giving way to more melodic colour as the song builds. Track two, No Not Now, almost sounds like a continuation of the same song, repeatedly changing direction and breaking down, only to come back stronger each time. The melodic and rhythmic invention of the band stop me in my tracks, and by the time we reach Bandages, I know this is a record I will come back to again and again trying to unravel its complexities. Their only hit single, Bandages is another killer song, building beautifully to a chorus that dares you not to join in, and the central image of the song is a simple and powerful one.

Another joy of this album is trying to sing along with the rapid fire lyrics. Track five, Oh Godammit is a standout challenge

Regular exposure to insecticide

Has caused me to break out in hives,

I’m losing weight,

I cannot wait till Saturday…

Cos Saturday

My tax inductions

Make me function like a

Blue collar, white collar,

I don’t know so I gotta holler….

The verbal torrent is pretty relentless through the album, but the words are so well put together and delivered with such conviction and playfulness that they never seem overpowering. Each song is a celebration of language, of how well-stitched lyrics can create a patchwork of joy and exuberance. Many of the songs sound like singer Bays trying out chorus after chorus as guitarist Dante DeCaro tries to catch up and follow his rhythmic and melodic shifts with hastily improvised guitar lines. This constant sparring gives the album a high wire feel, the heart in mouth excitement of watching someone pushing the limits and repeatedly just pulling it off.

The band never quite scaled the same heights again. Second album Elevator had its moments, notably Goodnight, Goodnight and Pickin’ It Up ( the best new wave song Costello never wrote), but once guitarist Dante DeCaro left, the group seemed to lose their edge and some of their idiosyncratic charm: quickly becoming another competent, jobbing indie band. Some bands just nail it first time out, producing perfectly formed debut albums: their subsequent recordings diluting rather than distilling the original magic. So uncork the phial, let the spell take hold and shake your bony ass to this !

A radically different interpretation of Get in or Get Out still packs a melodic punch.

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