The hype machine behind Hawthorne Heights' second album has worked in overdrive for months, so much so that the actual music only seems like part of the Hawthorne Heights brand name. The big push, which includes a MySpace-like community strictly for fans, has one goal in mind: the album debuting at number one. Anything less would be a disappointment.
But the music itself isn't all that impressive. For all its surprising success, Hawthorne Heights' 2004 debut, The Silence In Black And White, peddled unremarkable screamo: huge-sounding guitars, heavy/light dynamics, punk intensity, sung/screamed vocals, and the requisite self-absorbed lyrics. On the new This Is Who We Are DVD, guitarist Micah Carli says of the new album, If Only You Were Lonely, "We're just going to do, like, a better, revised version of the first album, basically." That's precisely what Lonely is—but in the pejorative sense.
Lonely's 12 tracks mostly follow this template: big, loud intro; more subdued verse; louder bridge; bombastic, catchy chorus. Repeat, breakdown (with screamed vocals), chorus. The band comes to life during its refrains (particularly on "This Is Who We Are," "Saying Sorry," and "Cross Me Off Your List"), which have hooks to spare. They work well, in part, because J.T. Woodruff sounds passionate without resorting to the cliché guttural screams. When he holds back in the verses, the songs suffer. They need a forceful vocal presence, and Woodruff's quiet singing recedes when it should hook.
Unsurprisingly, repetition sinks If Only You Were Lonely. In spite of their stronger moments, the songs are basically interchangeable. The lyrics focus on the usual relationship woes, seldom rising above obvious turns of phrase: "Saying goodbye's the hardest part / wish we knew this from the start" ("Saying Sorry").
And when Hawthorne Heights finally deviates from the formula on the last song, "Decembers," the tactic backfires. The piano-driven ballad suffers most from cringe-inducing lyrics that read like boy-band castoffs: "Please slow down girl / we're moving way too fast for their world / we've gotta make this last." It only gets worse when Woodruff sings about heartbeats and butterflies looking for a drink. That type of schmaltz permeates bad mainstream music, and maybe that's where Hawthorne Heights wants to be. But considering its roots in the indie-punk scene, it should know better.