Review Summary: Robbed of their most distinctive performer, Hawthorne Heights no longer stand out from a swathe of emo pretenders.
By the close of 2006, Ohio pop punkers Hawthorne Heights were firmly ensconced as one of rock’s most successful acts, commanding platinum album sales when such achievements were becoming an increasing rarity, especially for groups who don’t openly flaunt stadium rock pretensions. Their second release on Victory Records, If Only You Were Lonely
, was a remarkable development on their promising debut, marking them out as the rare type of band that could convincingly carry heavy music beyond its core audience to pop and non-rock audiences. More importantly, frontman JJ Woodruff had always seemed a little too self-aware to fully believe in his own lyrics- some saving grace when they include such crazy inane shit
as “so cut my wrists and black my eyes / so I can fall asleep tonight or die.”
Yet the premature death of guitarist/screamer Casey Calvert last November- not to an act of self-abuse but a tragic mix-up that led him to take a lethal mixture of depression medication and pain pills- has upset the apple cart significantly. In choosing to continue as a four-piece, the band sacrificed two of their defining features: Calvert’s distinctive screeched accompaniment and the muscularity his third guitar added to their frequent crescendos. On the other hand, Woodruff’s pining love songs always seemed like they were addressing a dead lover rather than the alive kind. If any band in the public were to convincingly deal with the death of a bandmate through musical catharsis, Hawthorne Heights had a better chance than most.
Unfortunately, with Fragile Future
, Hawthorne Heights start awkwardly and never really find their feet. Opener ‘The Business Of Paper Stars’ begins with swirling backwards guitars, one of several psychedelic side-notes littered between the album’s 12 tracks, and immediately showcases the band’s changed emphasis. In place of the rapidfire riffing of previous efforts, ‘The Business Of Paper Stars’ builds at half-speed, calling to mind momentarily the behind-the-beat hard rock of Avenged Sevenfold, before resolving to familiar power pop territory. ‘Sugar In The Engine’ picks up with a sweet, bluesy acoustic guitar refrain and swirling synths, while a crackled mellotron break is tacked on to the end of ‘Until The Judgement Day.’ In both cases, the coda is more interesting than the actual song it bookends, yet Hawthorne Heights make no effort to incorporate these more diverse elements in to the songs proper. The result is predictable: robbed of their most distinctive performer, and with no superior songwriting to differentiate them, Hawthorne Heights no longer stand out from a swathe of emo pretenders.
In the chorus of ‘The Business Of Paper Stars,’ Woodruff sings triumphantly, nonsensically, “save yourself from everything that you have learned / save yourself from all the trust that you have earned.”
Learned does, indeed, rhyme with earned, but students of English might note that it’s complete fu
cking gibberish. Astonishingly, the loss of a dear friend appears to have completely paralysed the group’s ability to express loss. It’s sad, but not for the intended reasons. ‘Sugar In The Engine’ grants glimpses of the insight shown on previous records, as Woodruff’s astutely, “you need more than a crucifix to survive.”
Yet such examples are few and far between, and when JT sings “this is the sound of desperation / this is the sound of me wearing thin,”
it’s hard not to speculate that maybe Fragile Future
came a little too soon in Hawthorne Heights’ recovery as a band.