January 01, 2006 - Victory
Disclaimer: Regardless of what that ratings key says in the upper right-hand corner of this page, when it comes down to it, a 3 means “good.” And that’s what the new Hawthorne Heights album is: good. It’s not a 5 (perfect, if you will) or a 4 (great); it’s good. However, while this Ohio quintet aren’t reinventing the musical wheel on If Only You Were Lonely, they aren’t necessarily spinning those wheels in the mud, either.
Lonely comes as top-loaded as any record in recent memory-the first five songs could easily be smash singles individually. Back-to-back rockers “This Is Who We Are” and “We Are So Last Year” leap out of your speakers (thanks to stellar production from David Bendeth), showing a marked improvement from 2004’s The Silence In Black And White, with frontman JT Woodruff finally realizing his voice is built for solid tenor melodies, instead of letting it cash out at the bottom of his range on previous singles like “Niki FM.” These two songs also show a newfound aggression and overall cohesiveness from the band, letting them firmly plant their feet as top dogs of their genre.
Another improvement over Black And White is the placement of guitarist Casey Calvert’s screaming parts. In this neo-screamo musical landscape, where so many bands are saturating every last song with blood-curdling shrieks, Calvert has learned his role in this band, reserving his screams for key moments. While there are a few missteps vocally, Calvert and the band really step up to the plate on “Dead In The Water” and “Where Can I Stab Myself In The Ears,” delivering metalcore breakdowns more akin to something we’d expect from Killswitch Engage. As much as your older brother might think he hates this band, if he were to walk into your room during one of those moments, he’d be into it.
However, the best parts of Lonely are also the album’s downfall: Hawthorne Heights are quickly becoming the kings of writing knockout choruses, as evidenced on each of Lonely’s dozen tracks; but when you write choruses as immediately infectious as the ones in “Saying Sorry” or “Cross Me Off Your List,” it’s damned near impossible to write verses that are anywhere near as memorable (see “Pens And Needles” or “I Am On Your Side”). That, coupled with Woodruff’s somewhat limited songwriting vocabulary (virtually every song on Lonely is about loving someone, missing someone, writing to someone, going to sleep or a combination of the four), is what really holds the album from “great” status. However, when the band push their own predefined musical boundaries, as in the subdued bridge of “Pens And Needles” or the straight-up balladry of “Decembers,” you can’t help but wonder what other ideas were brought up in band practice but shot down for “not being Hawthorne Heights-y enough.”
If Only You Were Lonely will buy Hawthorne Heights a few more minutes beyond the 15 they’ve already received. Here’s to hoping they’ll use that time to think outside of the box a little more while they write LP3.
ROCKS LIKE: Armor For Sleep’s What To Do When You Are Dead, Lorene Drive’s Romantic Wealth, Hawthorne Heights’ The Silence In Black And White