hen the Strokes became the next big thing a little over two years ago, nobody (except maybe the ever-hopeful staff at Q, god bless ‘em) really thought that they were going to save rock. Once most of the hype died down, people were easily able to size up the boys for what they were—a concoction of influences that stumbled into the right place at the right time. There wasn’t an original idea contained in all of Is This It?, but the band had good pedigree and synthesized their borrowings undeniably well. Consequently, a lot of hipsters cried bloody murder at the hype, but most were able to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Two years later, after the ill-advised garage rock revolution (which was about 95% press, 5% sales), and the heavy acclaim of similarly 2 + 2 = 4 bands like Interpol and ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, we’ve got The Exploding Hearts and their debut, Guitar Romantic. Everything about this album screams influenced. Hell, check the liner notes, which manage to simultaneously (rip off? reference? allude to?) The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. And that tired pose on the cover—so “what makes us really cool is that we’re really not cool at all.” And the title...uggggh. You really don’t need me to tell you what the Exploding Hearts sound like, do you? And that’s just the artwork.
Even more predictable, however, is how great the songs on this album are. Yes, this is another collection of ace pop songs—“Modern Kicks,” “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades” and “Throwaway Style” will be essential mix tape fodder for anybody who hears this album until 2006. There are no more than two or three songs on this album that aren’t imminently hummable. Obviously, The Exploding Hearts take their name very seriously--The guitars shine with excessive distortion and unmistakable passion, the lyrics are ten times as sweetly good natured as The White Stripes’ “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” (awww!!!) and the band can swing like no one since, well, The Strokes, who are still one of the key reference points.
Aside from that comparison, however, it’s nothing but retro, retro, retro for The Exploding Hearts. Immediately inviting comparisons to The Buzzcocks, The Jam and any number of late 70’s power-pop bands, the band never comes near anything even resembling a unique identity. Instead the boys opt for nostalgia, using outdated lyrics and self-consciously charming riffs that are catchy as hell and even pretty memorable, but never transcendental. The cuteness factor is off the charts, but it feels sort of self-designed, unoriginal and lame.
This isn’t what the world needs now. Music has enough revivalist, tribute and retro acts right now to last for at least another 25 years. Guitar Romantic wouldn’t have sounded any fresher before The Strokes, but resistance to its staleness would probably have been considerably lower. If you listen to this album and think “that’s a fucking stupid attitude to take, it’s just a collection of great pop songs, stop analyzing it so much,” then good for you. If the slowly momentum-gaining hype for The Exploding Hearts never reaches boiling point, then I might still be sick of it, but your attitude is probably the smart one to have. But until then, keep this album away from the NME at all costs—music, in general, has no further use for one more album of catchy but hopelessly backwards-looking pop.