Once upon a time, 'emo' was short for 'emotional', and the music it was named after was indeed that. We can look back on bands like Mineral, Texas is the Reason, Sense Field, or On the Might of Princes, and hear the passion coming through our speakers. But as with all genres, the more mainstream it becomes, the more the music becomes diluted and watered down to a shadow of what it used to be, and what it could be now.
This one wasn't easy for me. I really, really wanted to take the high road and give this an honest review and not just slam it for being Hawthorne Heights, but, wow, I have to tell you guys... it's not good. Some of you may be like, OK Pudge, way to state the obvious, but I want you all to know I tried, I mean really, really tried, to find something about Hope that I liked, and there really wasn't much there.
I suppose I will start off with what I did enjoy, and that was the drums. Eron Bucciarelli has a very crisp, clean style of playing that manages to straddle that fine line between keeping the rhythm noticeable and interesting while not overpowering the songs. That's not so easy to accomplish, especially in the genre of post-post-pop-punk where the rest of the band seems to be mailing it in on almost every song.
I refuse to believe that after a decade that Hawthorne Heights hasn't really evolved all that much as players. Maybe they are a little more "mature" and softer around the edges but the basic style, song structure, and so forth, hasn't changed all that much. You get the same formula of mid-tempo emo-ish pop punk with the same lyrics that were prevalent at the turn of the century... and aren't these guys around 30 years old now? These lyrics are so goddamned awful I literally groaned aloud easily a dozen times. New rule- if you're old enough to be out of grad school, stop writing high school romance anthems.
Even worse than the sappy lyrics are the way in which they are sung. JT Woodruff has pretty much the same delivery in every song, that two-note sing-songy emo voice that was dated after New Found Glory's first album. When he tries to deviate from that, his vocals sound stiff and forced. There is no emotion in his voice at all, nothing to suggest any connection to the lyrics, and judging by the lyrics, why would there be? There's also a few forced sing-along parts which, to me, sound like they were purposely placed to elicit audience response. The only song I get any sincerity from (which, ironically, starts with the aforementioned sing-along) is Vandemonium, which is a typical ode to touring and sharing small, cramped spaces with your bandmates on long trips. But even this song, despite its Face to Face-inspired chorus, lacks any punch or feeling, nothing close to something like MxPx's New York to Nowhere or Lagwagon's Sleep.
The songs here are also seriously lacking in hooks. I am big on hooks because that is what keeps someone coming back to an album again and again. I listened to Hope easily four or five times in the span of a week and I can't remember one riff or chorus. I've had even terrible songs stick in my head before, because they had- you guessed it- a hook. There's nothing here that makes me want to come back. I had to force myself to listen to it more than once just so I could give it the honest review it deserves.
In short, this is utterly forgettable. And lest this be dismissed as some metal guy's panning of a pop-punk album, I've played in many pop-punk and emo bands over the years. I know a stinker when I hear one. Unless you are a devoted fan of Hawthorne Heights, I would suggest you give this one a wide berth. At best it will do nothing for you, at worst you will wonder why you wasted a half hour of your life even bothering.
Hawthorne Heights - Hope EP