Do you remember the band Soundgarden? The alternative band had a few hits in the middle to late ’90s. No? Well, do you remember mid-’90s alternative radio at all? The Boston-based rock band American Hi-Fi surely remembers it, and anyone looking to delve into a little painful music nostalgia need look no further than the band’s debut album Advance Music.
A relatively new band, American Hi-Fi formed quickly with ex-Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt drummer Stacy Jones at its head. Band members met, wrote some songs and traveled to Hawaii for their first gig. Motley Crew and Metallica producer Bob Rock quickly offered the group a record deal after its live debut.
So what is a band to do with a lot of talent but little experience playing together and a full-length debut album to record? Simply knock off a few rock clich?s, add some decent melodies among mostly throwaway tracks and release it to a mainstream audience that feeds on unoriginality.
Advance Music (Island Records) teems with melodic, hard-rocking tracks that mostly fall to a level of mediocrity. The songs blend together in a monotonous sea of power-pop music, and only a few tracks stand out.
Of the better songs, the album’s “radio smash hit” is perhaps the catchiest tune. “Flavor of the Weak” is a pop-saturated ballad with some intricate guitar work and powerful hooks. It manages to get the listener singing along with its chorus. American Hi-Fi shows on “Flavor” that band members obviously have some talent for playing and writing good melodies, but the song deceptively sets the audience up for a completely different band.
American Hi-Fi apparently chose to follow not only a specific musical genre, but an era as well. The album plays is much like a ’90s alternative rock station playing rock song after rock song that sound a bit different but are basically carbon copies of each other. One track sounds like Smashmouth, then the next sounds like Foo Fighters, then comes a Weezer track, then a Soundgarden-esque song and finally, Everclear. And while those bands are admittedly solid bands, copying their sound does not make for quality music.
The low point of the album, “I’m a Fool,” is a straight-up combination of Third Eye Blind’s high-octave choruses and Smashmouth’s rap-lounge-rock style. This song in particular gets the listener diving for the mute button.
The album comes near its end with a well chosen track, “What About They,” which uses high vocals and a heavy dose of melody to deliver a slow and touching ballad. Unable to end on an upnote, the final song, “Wall of Sound,” drives the album down once again into the trenches of alternative rock uniformity.
The biggest thing that keeps one from enjoying the fairly decent songs on the album is the fact that it is impossible to stop asking, “Now, who does this song sound like?” If one can get past this frustration, the album turns out to show some potential, and allows for an occasional listen.
American Hi-Fi might just have a chance to prove its talent. That is, if it can escape the mid-’90s radio rock timewarp it is currently stuck inside.
Advance Music is in stores now