Album Review: Hawthorne Heights show their age on new record

Justin Sindone

Ten years ago if you asked someone if they listened to emo, they probably wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. The operative word here is probably because emo did, in fact, exist ten years ago, but it was nothing more than a small lo-fi subsidiary of punk consisting of a handful of bands that were crushed under the hugely successful alternative and nu-metal acts of the late 90’s. Now the little genre that could has exploded into the dominant force in rock music. Emo’s newfound notoriety is due mostly to punk’s huge comeback in the rock genre and from their omnipresent teenage fan base, whose newfound devotion makes or breaks a band’s popularity in the age of MTV and digital music downloading.

It is within the fan base of such bands where problems begin to arise. Because these bands are so momentarily popular, the genre has become a commodity, much like the boy band era of the late 90’s. Most of these emo groups who are fresh out of high school speak directly to their teenage fan base and it these same adolescents and their wide range of heartfelt emotions who hang on their every lyric. The record companies who have recognized this pump out new emo bands every other second, including some bands that don’t have the credentials or experience to really become all that memorable. Add to the equation that every little detail of teenage life can be expressed through internet blogs and bands can become your ‘friend’ on MySpace, and you realize emo has evolved more into a style of expression rather than a style of music. This makes the music quality itself not as important as the way an emo band presents its music lyrically and stylistically.

Hawthorne Heights, sadly to say, is one of the commoditized emo/screamo bands. Why commoditized? For one, purchasers of the band’s latest disc “If Only You Were Lonely,” receive a pre-packaged bonus sampler CD with other homogenized bands in addition to a pullout advertisement for Hawthorne Heights-brand band clothing, gear and accessories. They were a brand even before becoming a real band. The band even discusses their commoditization on their new song “We Are So Last Year” with lyrics like, “We’re falling faster, this is the last year..this never happens, changing with fashion, just a few more hours until we are unknown.”

Hawthorne Heights’ fears may harken back to two years ago when they emerged with their debut “The Silence In Black and White,” an effort panned by critics for the group’s formulaic screamo, void of any real hook or melody. Although their production values were tight and they sold a gazillion albums anyway, they were still hard to distinguish in the vast ocean of emerging screamo/emo bands that stayed adrift among them.

However, their new LP begins to show cracks in their befitted screamo mold with the creation of some actual distinct melodies. Therapeutic lyrics about breakups, unrequited love and the adolescent experience that personifies emo so well are certainly present, but now the difference is you can sing along to them.

In songs like “This is Who We Are” they prove their worth with a strong contagious chorus that chants “I know it feels like we’re never coming back, you tried your best and you knew it wouldn’t last.” On album closer “Decembers,” a piano is actually employed to create a thoughtful, beautiful song about a girl. But the symptoms for something bigger and better from Hawthorne Heights are slowly creeping out.

Give this track a second listen: “Decembers”

Our rating: 3 stars (out of 5)