Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lonely H - Kick Upstairs - 2006

There's a great tradition in rock & roll of small-town teenagers who get together in the proverbial garage and put together a band that takes on the world. It dates back at least to the 1960s and was given cinematic treatment in Tom Hanks' 1996 film That Thing You Do! The Lonely H, a pop/rock quintet from Port Angeles, WA, may remind listeners somewhat of the Wonders, the fictional band from that movie, if only because their musical sensibility is not far removed from the mid-'60s sound that group made, a sound also immortalized on the first Nuggets compilation. But if garage rock is one touchstone for the Lonely H, it also seems clear that lead singer and keyboard player Mark Fredson has been listening not only to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, from whom he and his bandmates have taken notions of song structure, melody, and harmony, but also from Queen, particularly in the piano-based ballads "Sweet Madeline" and "Simple Love." Fredson has facetiously referred to "Zelda" as an "epic ballad," and he is forthright about the swooning effect that a song like "Simple Love" has on the group's female fans. But kidding and pandering aside, he clearly has a strong talent for melody that the group matches with its arranging skill, which is what makes those songs work for audiences as good power ballads always do. That is not to say, however, that the group can't rock out, and it does so elsewhere on the disc. But the Lonely H makes rock music imbued with pop sophistication; they change keys and tempos, and then they throw in an a cappella harmony part to go along with those loud guitars. Fredson, meanwhile, has one of those foggy, nasal tenors that have been cutting through charging rock bands for decades. But while the Lonely H would seem destined for stardom, their very abilities may limit their appeal. All that straight, unkempt blond hair falling across their beardless faces can be less reminiscent of Kurt Cobain than of Hanson, and another great tradition in rock & roll is the coolness factor, which Cobain, for all his troubles, possessed, while Hanson, for all their talent, did not. Like their idols of the '60s and '70s, the members of the Lonely H will have to balance the rock with the pop if they are to succeed. If Kick Upstairs is any indication, they may do just that. -AMG

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