Review Summary: A band in mourning do their very best to move on with underwhelming third album.”Our hearts are heavy and light. We laugh, and scream, and sing. Our hearts are heavy and light.
In loving memory of Casey Calvert”
With this, Hawthorne Heights signed off to their guitarist/screamer (who passed away not even a year ago, last November) and progressed into 2008 as a quartet. Much like Drowning Pool, Bayside and the Red Shore, the band have simply refused to let the adversity of a bandmate’s tragic death halt their productivity entirely. Whilst this is certainly an admirable feat on Hawthorne Heights’ behalf, the argument here is whether the band’s latest- their third studio release and first without Calvert, Fragile Future
- is a worthwhile progression. Honestly, it’s hard to say- at times, the band present a sound that is well-executed and catchy, whilst at others it feels as if the band are simply putting on a brave face, forcing the music when, really, they are completely lost.
With some of the main elements of the Hawthorne Heights sound gone (the triple guitar and harsh vocals), it is evident from the get-go that the band are seeking desperately to keep the fire alight by make something new of what is left. This, in turn, is a double edged sword- they certainly make attempts at adding new elements to the songs, which work in the songs' favour; yet they do so on hesitant, unsteady footing. “Until the Judgement Day”, as an example, features a warbling keyboard line that could carry the song, and a piano break that could have progressed the song to an entirely different level altogether. However, they are nothing more than cameo appearances in the song, as the all-too-familiar rock song formula takes the steering wheel. Some of it pays off, however. “Disaster” sees the band emphasise drum machine, piano and strings and mixes them with their regular set of instruments interestingly enough. “Sugar in the Engine”, too, features the two guitars at their softest (acoustic chord progressions in the introduction and quaint finger-picking in the outro), juxtaposed with their loudest (heavy metal styled guitar crunch in addition to twin guitar harmonics). Tracks in this fashion, however, are just too seldom present on the record.
Closing track “Come Back Home” features a reprise, revealing itself to be an orchestral rendition of the chorus to “This is Who We Are”. Interestingly enough, if this album is correctly placed in iTunes, this reprise will end and lead the listener right into that exact song, from 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely
. In a way, this is a reflection of the band’s current status- back to square one. The focus here is on what the band are familiar with, except with the rough edges smoothed out in a Jimmy Eat World-style. This watering down can be traced to the central focus on lead singer/guitarist JT Woodruff’s vocals- now with only self-harmonising overdubs to assist him, his Pierre-Bouvier-with-balls shtick gets to the point of irritation at a much quicker pace than normal.
Hawthorne Heights are not exactly known for their way with words - they are best known for the oft misinterpreted “cut my wrists and black my eyes” (a metaphor, they insist to this day). Three albums in, this still hasn’t changed much- obvious rhyming couplets such as “come back home/you’re all alone” and “Rescue me/from everything” continue to plague the songs, no matter how catchy they sound. Subtlety also takes a running jump out the window, notably on the all-too-obvious “Four Become One”. What is meant to be a heartfelt tribute to their lost bandmate turns particularly sour with ridiculously palpable lyrics like “Five become four/and four become one” and “We only cried but once/You made us laugh”. There is no question of the band’s sincerity, but it’s a little upsetting that this is the very best they could come up with for Casey. The spoken word outro of “Sugar in the Engine” is also intended to be another eulogy. Such a shame that emotionless, droning repetition of “I would have said goodbye/I would have said I loved you” stumps the message almost completely.
“As we pull ourselves together/we can’t help but be torn apart”, sighs Woodruff in “Four Become One”. Sadly, he most likely won’t realise how apt this is- Hawthorne Heights have given us a rushed release, in an attempt to defy the odds and move on- admirable, certainly, but quite evidently too soon. In the midst of their distress, they have surprisingly not released their worst record yet. Having said that, the band could go one of two ways from this point. They could bridge the gap into the next stage of the music of Hawthorne Heights, making a sound that is better than ever; or this could very well signal the end of the band completely. Whilst many of the band’s detractors will hope and pray for the latter, the former is still a viable option. After all, isn’t that what Casey would have wanted?