Hot Hot Heat
Make Up the Breakdown: Deluxe Edition
The hype surrounding Hot Hot Heat’s debut album was as feverish as their band name. Make Up the Breakdown came out 20 years ago on October 8 to widespread critical acclaim. Back in 2002, when the radio was still our primary source for listening to new music, you couldn’t escape the voice of Steve Bays—a near Roddy Radiation clone—on alt-rock stations as he belted out the record’s lead single “Bandages.” Pitchfork gave the album a glowing review of 8.7 (though they describe the album as “emo,” a categorization that doesn’t particularly hold up), it went #1 on KROQ, and it ranked #146 on the Billboard 200. You simply couldn’t escape that lead single’s danceable beat, eerie synths, and lyrics of emotional turmoil.
For the album’s occasional messiness and imperfections, upon revisit it contains a quaint, nostalgic charm that still makes it enjoyable to listen to today. The album’s upbeat melodies and surprisingly complex lyrics have a euphonic effect in songs like “Naked in the City Again,” an examination of validation and alcoholism, and “This Town,” a song about paranoia and judgment. When this tension finds its balance, it carries a great tune like “Aveda” well beyond the heavy inspiration it takes from The Specials. This even comes through a bit in the two bonus tracks—“Apt 101” and “Move On,” which were released as singles in 2002—tacked onto the end of the new deluxe edition.
The record caught fire when it was released, but if it had instead come out a few years later I don’t think it would’ve had the impact it did. While listening to Make Up the Breakdown, you’ll likely hear how it preceded plenty of other post-punk revival bands that would blow up only a few of years later, such as The Cribs, The Rapture, Klaxons, and The Bravery. This influence, however, would be short-lived, as Hot Hot Heat’s subsequent releases didn’t live up to the expectations created by their debut. Although not nearly as massive and influential as The Strokes were at the moment, you can still easily make the argument that Hot Hot Heat has a part in rock ’n’ roll history during the post-punk revival of the early aughts, however small that may feel today.