In the wake of Hot Hot Heat's knockout 2002 album Make Up The Breakdown, dozens of danceable rock bands, enslaved to the '80s, seemed to appear en masse. When the market kicks out a seemingly endless supply of bands with the edgy angularity of Gang Of Four, XTC, The Jam, and Joe Jackson, even the genre's top practitioners tend to sound undistinguished. In fact, Hot Hot Heat's much-anticipated follow-up album Elevator takes a few songs to overcome '80s fatigue. There's nothing inherently wrong with the album-opening trio "Running Out Of Time," "Goodnight Goodnight," and "Ladies And Gentlemen," except that their frenetic energy and booming choruses come off as a little overbearing, like they're meant to be chopped up for commercials, not heard all together.
But then comes "You Owe Me An IOU," a circular strutter that kicks off with singer Steve Bays yelping, "He was in the habit / Of taking things for granted / Granted / There wasn't much for him to take," and builds to a chorus that crunches like peanut brittle. After the brief coda "No Jokes — Fact," Elevator continues with "Jingle Jangle," a hooky wish for change that would be almost wistful if Hot Hot Heat weren't shaking and bashing so vigorously, and then "Pickin' It Up," which bucks and sparks and is just about the most perfect "good to be alive" post-punk anthem of the past 10 years. It's worth the whole lot of uninspired new-wave revivalists just for "Pickin' It Up," and though Elevator never gets that high again, the album contains a couple more songs in the same general class, like "Middle Of Nowhere" and the title track.
Hot Hot Heat has handled the pressure of going from happy discovery to possible-saviors-of-rock reasonably well. The once just "promising" British Sea Power, meanwhile, moves forward stealthily, not yet under too many microscopes. The band's 2003 debut The Decline Of British Sea Power reached back to the late '70s for Joy Division and David Bowie-styled theatrical gloom, but the follow-up, Open Season, sits squarely in the new new wave, borrowing heavily from The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen. British Sea Power isn't the first band to echo Echo, but it's remarkably good at it, and since the sound hasn't yet been recycled to death, it's still pretty vibrant. Open Season's shimmering opener "It Ended On An Oily Stage" has the romantic sweep of classic Britpop—it evokes trenchcoated lovers gazing forlornly at the tide. The album stays more or less in that vein, peaking early with the crisply witty kiss-off "Be Gone." British Sea Power's momentum flags down the stretch, but so long as it keeps generating songs like the hazy "Killing Moon" re-write "Like A Honeycomb," the band can return all it wants to the days of sweet sorrow.