Review Summary: Full of sunny-pop tunes and not a whole lot of punch, Hearts on Parade brings a new side of American Hi-Fi to light.
It has never been easy for Boston based rock band American Hi-Fi. After unexpectingly garnering critical acclaim for their self titled debut, and lead single “Flavor of the Weak” reaching a respectable position on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001, the band quietly released their sophomore effort, The Art of Losing
in 2003. Unfortunately for the band, in those two short years, the entire musical landscape of rock had changed from the heavy grumblings of Andrew W.K to the garage-rock of the White Stripes, leaving American Hi-Fi behind, somewhere woefully inbetween.
Soon after the release of their first album, Hi-Fi's once growing fan base began to dwindle. While The Art of Losing
was a solid effort, it failed to impress overall, sounding at once generic, rushed, and uninspired. The band who were once called “the future of rock and roll” in 2001 were subsequently dropped from their label, Island Records, in 2003 after their second album failed to make any mainstream impact. Nevertheless, the band went back into the studio in 2004, without a major label backing, to record their third album, Hearts on Parade. Only eighteen months after The Art of Losing
, Hearts on Parade
was released in July 2004 only in Japan; its subsequent release was delayed almost a whole year, finally being released by Maverick Records (a division of Island), in April 2005 in the United States.
Hearts on Parade
marks a significant change in sound and character for American Hi-Fi. Taking influence from the sunny skies of Los Angeles instead of the cold, dead winters of Boston, the album is much more poppy and light. Most of the tracks sound more like something from Fountains of Wayne, or the lighter side of Cheap Trick, and certainly not AC/DC, and obviously, this album is much more based in pop-rock than hard-rock. One listen through the album and it becomes clear that lead single “The Geeks Get the Girls” is the high point, being a nearly perfect pop-rock song about a geeky guy at a bar who attempts to pick up a woman who is out of his league. The song is driven by a chiming piano, and an irresistable chorus, and once the song takes hold, it doesn't let up it's sugary, poppy goodness. Other poppy highlights include the hand clapping mania of “We Can't Be Friends,” the slithery guitar of “Where Did We Go Wrong,” and the jangly, dense and layered chorus of “Hell Yeah!”
But, if there's one song that describes this album, it's “Highs and Lows.” Like the title states, the song tells the story about a weatherman who “knows the highs and lows,” has sport cars, money, and fame, but also has faceless friends. It features a good buildup, only to pull a long spoken weather forecast about Califronia a la “We Built This City” near the end that makes the song seem much longer than a bare three minutes and seventeen seconds. Likewise, to its highs, the album has other lows. “Something Real” starts off as a solid rock ballad, but quickly tires out after the chorus is repeated over and over again. Likewise, opener “Maybe Won't Do” is a clunky, funky version of a song that you've heard a thousand times before. And then there are the songs that, like the band itself, fall somewhere inbetween, like “Baby Come Home,” which has its moments in the chorus, and the title track that has more similarities to an Oasis power ballad than to Hi-Fi's early material.
In the end, for better or for worse, Hearts on Parade
was not marketed correctly by American Hi-Fi's label or by the band, and this poppy album was not given a second chance by their fans who had once been so devoted to them only four years before. Hearts on Parade
is an extremely polarizing album for many, that winds up being just average by the end of it. If you're willing to throw the “Flavor of the Weak” out the window, Hearts on Parade
ends up doing a solid job of delivering moderately catchy pop-rock songs with solid hooks in their choruses, but not much else.