“No fucking emo bullshit.” That’s what vocalist Andy Jackson told me during a post-production discussion about Hot Rod Circuit’s second album for emo flagship label Vagrant. And in a sense, its true- Reality’s Coming Through is a distinct step in a different direction from their sweet sounding, emotion-filled Sorry About Tomorrow. Their latest is more geared towards adult-oriented rock than what many have come to equate the label with. Yet while it’s certainly a respectable goal to distance oneself from these rather shallow burdens, Hot Rod Circuit seem to lack the musical dexterity to successfully pull something like this off.
The strange thing about it is that the one quality so visibly missing from Reality’s Coming Throughis the one thing everybody complained about- the mushy beating heart. Case in point, much of this release is hobbled by their reluctance to fall back on what made their previous effort quite the rewarding listen. In place, Hot Rod Circuit have adopted a more adult approach to songwriting- trading in their emo hooks for more mundane AOR structures; and the results are visibly mixed.
There are some notable points, songs that would have fit well with their previous work; the almost-ballad sounding “Save You,” the sweeping approach of “Moonlight – Sunlight,” and the wispy, willowy “The Best You Ever Knew.” Yet the majority of the album seems to linger amongst indecision; the forcefully Cheap Trick sounding homage “Cheap Trick,” the rather unnecessary flailing of “Fear the Sound,” and the stagnant pace of “Unfaithful.” All of which scream a lack of connectivity throughout the record—leaving Reality’s Coming Through glaringly disjointed and distant (the production has taken a step back as well; becoming rather plastic sounding).
While there are few reasons to get excited about the band’s new direction, it isn’t a total disaster by any means. Perhaps Hot Rod Circuit have just not found their footing yet in different terrain- and if they do persist over time, something great might just come out of it. Their attempt to find new musical ground is certainly an admirable one, but one that staggers and stumbles more than it sparkles.