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Hot Hot Heat
Happiness LTD.
Sire Records
www.hothotheat.com


Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays has one of those great, emotional voices. Rather than all the whining and/or screaming of modern rock, Bays says more with a little quiver here, a soft octave dip there, than can a thousand other rock star wannabes. He's a smart lyricist, too. This disc's title track includes the truism: "Happiness is limited," yet "misery has no end." But doesn't life sometimes feel that way? Happiness is great, but it's many times over before you even know it. Misery is unbearable and seems to never end.

I found myself loving many of these songs before I even heard them. I mean, how can you not like a song name such as "5 Times Out of 100", which succinctly expresses how the odds are frighteningly stacked high against this poor chap. I also dig "Harmonicas & Tambourines", which combines two of my favorite rock & roll instrumental elements.

Bays plays keyboards, which gives Hot Hot Heat a distinct advantage over many contemporary power-pop acts. The group works up plenty of electric guitar steam, of course, but it's those subtle circus-styled keyboards on "Harmonicas & Tambourines" - to give just an example - which really put the song over the top. Although many of these 11 tracks lean toward the heartbreak side of romance, this CD never adds up to the sum affect of being a downer. One exception to this rule is "Outta Heart", which is melancholy, yet still beautiful. But for the most part, Bays and friends take Johnny Cash's sage old advice to heart: "Get rhythm when you get the blues."

Happiness may be limited, but Hot Hot Heat's power to please is seemingly infinite.

-Dan MacIntosh


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