Since 1993, with a couple of hiatuses thrown in, Hot Water Music has been a punk engine with guttural vocals screaming out the tail pipe. Car metaphors abound through their albums and find their way into their most recent release Light It Up. But, there’s been a tonal shift. They’ve dropped into a gear that can handle the incline of life and their experience over the past couple decades has put them in the driver’s seat willing to offer guidance to the less experienced riding shotgun and in successive rows of seats. And, unfortunately, everyone seems to be reasonably, firmly buckled in.
They offer a clear theme through 12 songs on their first album in five years: you can do it! You can overcome the hard times! Let go of the tough stuff and keep on moving on! These universal themes we can all get behind, but the vehicle that carries them, despite handling curves at inadvisable speeds on a couple occasions, stays within the speed limit and signals when appropriate. And why wouldn’t their driving be more reasonable; after all, they’re in their forties and seem to realize that now is the time to offer something to the generations that are behind them– to the kids they are likely raising.
Like pretty much every punk album worth something, the second song is bad ass- brooding vocals, vicious (viscous?) guitars, furious drums and some classic Hot Water Music chunking during breakdowns; solid work on the 1:30 second song “Light It Up.” “Vultures” and the album lead “Complicated” also scratch that itch for the fury of their best album Caution. Similarly, “Sympathizer” has a slow crushing rhythm that highlights the vocals and carries a heaviness that provides some substance between speedy songs.
Most everything else approaches a Bon Jovi-ish, Springsteen-y preachy-ness that’s a bit too uplifting in tone, music, and lyrics. It seems forced and a lazy until the final song, “Take You Away.”
They tap into some honest songwriting connecting us in the community of highs and lows and the ever approaching failures that we must seek out to avoid: “If you’re hearing this / Know I’m here with you now / Know you’re gonna burn it all down / Quicker than a strike in the salt you love / If you’re shaken up, slow down / Try looking in instead of looking out / you’ve got a lot to give. / Defeat will only rise if you let it live and take you / Away.”
That highlight closes out the album that is too focused on telling the listener they can do it and not focused enough on rocking socks off.
It gets to the destination, but the tank seems nearly empty and to keep going, a higher octane is needed.