Punky English pop comes to life again with Canadian quartet
Igor Stravinsky once noted, 'A good composer does not imitate, he steals.' This bit of wisdom certainly applies to Victoria, B.C., combo Hot Hot Heat; in fact, they've probably got it framed and hung on the wall, right next to the painting of dogs playing poker.
On their most recent release, 'Make Up the Breakdown' (SubPop Records), the brazen Canucks freely rifle the underwear drawers of such jump-and-jerk Brit punks as Elvis Costello, the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four and, especially, XTC.
Singer and keyboardist Steve Bays even pilfers the phrasing from specific songs: On 'Get In or Get Out,' he does a nifty bit of mimicry from XTC's 'Respectable Street.' He shifts into Costello mode on 'Oh, Goddamnit' and 'Aveda.'
On 'Talk to Me, Dance With Me,' guitarist Dante DeCaro gets into the act and nicks a Gang of Four guitar riff while Bays offers up a shaky vocal turn that hearkens back to the Cure's Robert Smith.
With all that said, 'Make Up the Breakdown' is still good fun and packs plenty of bang for the buck. After all, who's using XTC or Gang of Four as source material these days?
The songs lurch and tumble like a liquored-up freshman but prove to be far better company. Drummer Paul Hawley certainly learned a thing or two from XTC pounder Terry Chambers, and his thunderous beats alone should have the listener erupting into jubilant episodes of spastic delight.
Pilfering ideas from other bands is a lot like trying to make additional pots of coffee from the last of your used grounds. If you had strong, robust beans to start with, you'll be surprised at how tasty that second pot is. Or even the third. Consequently, if you've begun the process with inferior stock, there's nothing waiting for you in the pot but diluted swill.
Hot Hot Heat plays 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-281-4215, $9.
Good Morning Beautiful
(Eenie Meenie Records)
Too much democracy in a band can be a bad thing. When every group member feels the need to write and sing, a few unpleasant scenarios ultimately can manifest:
• The genuinely talented songwriters will be forced to share album space with pitiful amateurs. Not wishing to be associated with dilettantes, the real talent will leave the band.
• The band will stick to its democratic manifesto and earn a reputation as a wildly uneven group. Whenever the drummer adjusts his vocal mike, it'll be time to head to the bar.
Irving is an industrious quintet from San Francisco that seems to have sidestepped the pitfalls. All five musicians get a crack at center stage, and the results are surprisingly consistent and ear pleasing.
Naturally there is some stylistic variation here, but for the most part the band operates within specified parameters laid down by buzzin' bands such as Yo La Tengo or the Apples in Stereo with a happy few flourishes from the Beach Boys and a few mopey ones from Robert Wyatt.
The music is primarily thoughtful, dorm-room discourse with mood-swing acoustic guitars, slumbery vocals and polite drums. The singers come together throughout to supply 'whoos' and 'ba-ba-bas' in tasteful fashion.
If there's a potential breakout song here, it's 'L-O-V-E,' the most instantly catchy '60s pop pastiche to come along since the Bongos or the Three O'Clock were still stomping on fuzz pedals. Democracy marches on!
Irving plays at 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at Blackbird, 3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-282-9949, $6, and 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, at Satyricon, 125 N.W. Sixth Ave., 503-243-2380, $6.