Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Red Hot Radio: That's What We Said


Uh oh: Questionable band name. Seemingly lame album title. Amateur artwork.

Upon opening the package containing That’s What We Said, the debut album from Las Vegas’ Red Hot Radio, these were the three glaring signs that jumped out, each a red flag strongly warning me not to enter any further. As a critic, though, I’ve taken an oath to remain as objective and open-minded as possible when regarding any music, obstacles be damned. If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s the old clich├ęd “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” (Or in this case, the whole package.) For I’d be willing to say that, with blinders off and the music as the sole criterion in judging this album, That’s What We Said may just be the biggest and best surprise of the year.

Fans of earnest, Midwestern pop-punk who may still be mourning the demise of Hot Rod Circuit should re-direct their attention to Red Hot Radio. Lead singer Kevin O’Connell’s voice can easily be compared to that of Andy Jackson, as the two share the same gritty phrasing that defined HRC’s sound. O’Connell’s lyrics draw from everyday life experiences, like trying to meet lofty expectations and ultimately prevent disappointment, and that blue-collar yearning is what makes the songs so charming. The songs are never simple – there are impressive style changes and guitar flourishes – but because of O’Connell’s delivery, where he means every word he sings, they’re never complex. That same appeal is what carried bands like HRC so far in the first half of this decade, and with any luck, the same could happen to Red Hot Radio.

That’s What We Said (which, as a title, admittedly is more endearing if it’s not a play on the popular double entendre retort) is brisk in length and seamless in flow. Clocking in at just 30 minutes, the ten songs that make up the album effortlessly transition into each other. The leadoff track, “I’m Not, I’m Just” is a mere 40 seconds long, finding O’Connell muse on the predictability of relationships in five lines. It serves as a quick introduction to “Have A Breakdown,” which contains the album’s strongest chorus. The melody is exciting without veering on quirky, and shares similarities with “The Pharmacist”, from HRC’s Sorry About Tomorrow. “Sell Everything I Know,” “Flaws To Flaunt”, and “Five Or Six” are all similar exercises in upbeat, genuine pop-punk.

But where Red Hot Radio really excel are on the album’s ballads, particularly on centerpiece “Of Body And Space” and closer “A Pawn To Play The Game of Deceit.” The interplay between clean guitars and O’Connell’s reverb-heavy vocals provide a raw, delicate balance reminiscent of emo in the 90’s: think American Football and Braid. Would you have ever expected such weighty comparisons from a band called Red Hot Radio?

So by all accounts, consider me dumbfounded that these guys had it in them. Usually bands with names so bad aren’t supposed to be so good. For every ten “Cute Is What We Aim For”s, there may be one “Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin.” But let’s strike band names altogether from the conversation; in this business, they should ultimately be irrelevant when the music can speak for itself. Give Red Hot Radio the benefit of the doubt.

That's What We Said is available online today. Hear songs from the album, including "Sell Everything I Know" and "A Pawn To Play The Game Of Deceit" at the band's MySpace.

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