Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic (Screaming Apple Records, 2002; Dirtnap Records, 2003)

I never was able to give the Exploding Hearts an unbiased review. First there was the initial hype, and then quickly came the tragedy. Under the heavy influence of both, I touted the Hearts’ recordings as not only some of the finest pieces of music ever released, but also as some of the greatest accomplishments in human history, ranking somewhere up there between the invention of the wheel and a cure for cancer. It’s been six years now since the world lost Adam Cox, Jeremy Gage, and Matt Fitzgerald, and the passing of time has done nothing to diminish the Hearts’ musical standing. Emotion no longer clouding my judgment, I coolly hail Guitar Romantic one of the greatest punk rock debut LPs ever.

That Guitar Romantic is far from perfect is one of its greatest charms. Like many of the great early punk debuts it resembles, it’s far from a polished product. The production is raw, almost demo-like. The musicianship is basic, even sloppy in spots. It just feels like classic '70s punk rock, and not just because the Hearts had the good sense to emulate all the right bands. Guitar Romantic sounds not like a pale imitation of the Undertones' or Boys' debuts, but rather like an album that easily could have come out that very same year. Little attempt is made to mask sources of inspiration – “I’m a Pretender” is unabashedly Jam-like; “Rumors in Town” sounds uncannily like Mick Jones fronted Clash. Yet the Hearts were very much their own band, thanks in no small part to the adolescent, lovelorn snarl of one Adam Cox. The kid was no crooner, but he was a dynamite punk singer, capable of imbuing the standard snot-nosed vocal style with the plaintive tinge of heartbreak. And with his passing, we lost an immensely talented lyricist. By turns funny (“And ya say you know what's best for me/Well if you got your way/I'd have a lobotomy”) and poignant ("Weeds have grown over our camp site/I know 'cause I sleep there every night/Without you"), his wordplay was wise beyond his years. And who else could have spun this tender yarn about co-dependent glue-sniffers in love?

We snuck rubber cement into the fair/
We rode all the rides, but you wanted to fly/
So you jumped off into the air/
The neon lights and cotton candy skies/
Couldn't bring you down from those highs/
Oh now, you're so sad, oh girl/
I see you talking to a squirrel/
Kissing its lips, why not mine?

If Guitar Romantic gets the obligatory A+ for style, it scores just as highly for overall quality. The songs, mostly co-written by indie rock n’ roll vagabond King Louie (Hearts fans should definitely seek out his 2007 solo effort Memphis Treet), blend pop hooks with buzzsaw guitars as well as any punk band save The Ramones. It’s not stretching it to call “I’m a Pretender” and “Jailbird” modern classics, and the same could be said of “Throwaway Style” and “Sleeping Aids and Razor Blades”. “Modern Kicks” boasts one of the all-time great punk riffs - and some epic guitar leads from Mr. Terry Six. Even the lesser, filler type songs, like the Boys-inspired rocker “Still Crazy”, are pretty damn good.

So maybe now, I finally give the Exploding Hearts their long-deserved fully unbiased review. Guitar Romantic, all these years later, sounds just as good to my ears. Give it a special place on your shelf next to your well-worn copies of In the City and Incredible Shrinking Dickies. It’s earned it.
-Josh Rutledge

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