American Heartbreak Review
by Travis Becker
They wear the right t-shirts and play the right guitars. Haircuts, tattoos, and half-naked women on the album cover: American Heartbreak already has a lot going for it before you hear a note of their music. Even if you were blind, though, this band still has something to offer you. Part of the wave of revivalist Metal meets Garage washing over the musical landscape and leaking ever so slightly onto the carpet of the mainstream, American Heartbreak has been around longer than many of their peers, but have released far less music. Only their second full length studio release, American Heartbreak introduces the band to a much wider audience whose radar is now tuned for just these sorts of homing pigeons.
Certain comparisons are, of course, inevitable. Buckcherry leaps immediately to mind. American Heartbreak plays a similar style of hooky, punked-up Eighties Metal. Contemporaries like Beautiful Creatures may play it a little dirtier, but you'd be hard pressed to find anything as catchy as American Heartbreak. The choruses are big and so are the riffs. Arena rock scale informs the sound as well and bands like Styx and Cheap Trick aren't far out of AH's frame of reference. "The Last of the Superheroes (of the 70's) makes that claim pretty much explicit. Other songs like "Somebody", "Things are Looking Up", and "Crawling" all stake the bands place in a sound that's as vintage Seventies as their UFO and Aerosmith rock uniforms.
While the songwriting is probably on par with Buckcherry's, the band lacks a big personality like Josh Todd's to anchor the whole production and draw the listeners attention away from the cheesier moments. It's not a stretch to imagine the band writing many of these songs on the old air guitar. Chunky, AC/DC style riffs give the record a little meat and the loose edge around the sound gives it a Garage feel at times, but the thick coat of production polish mutes a lot of those tendencies. The vocals, while catchy, are probably the shakiness of a record that stands pretty well on its own two legs otherwise. Early on, they have an almost generic, Pop-punk with a head cold feel and never really pick up much grit or personality. It's believable that Axl Rose crawled out of rehab or some gutter somewhere, but no one's going to buy it from American Heartbreak singer, Lance Boone. The sing-along choruses pad things up a bit, which adds to that arena feel. One would imagine that this band is something else entirely in a live setting.
Like most retro rock, though, the guitars steal the show and bring the whole thing home. Solos and dual leads wind in and out of the songs and redeem the soft singing. Guitarist Billy Rowe, in particular, keeps things interesting with some fine acoustic and slide passages. The appalling thing is that the lead guitar is often fairly low in the mix, hovering like a really nice weather balloon underneath the cumulonimbus clouds of vocals and riffing. The production as a whole puzzles a little, in fact. This is just the kind of music that thrives in a shirtless, unhinged mess of sound, but the production team chooses to reign in American Heartbreak and check it to a trot. If they would have let this pony out of the gate, blinders off, it might have been something really special.
This would be the place for some kind of pun about how heartbreaking it is that this band hasn't reached its potential. Given the fact that the band has been together for ten years, it's safe to assume that this sound is most likely it. That being said, taking American Heartbreak for what it is isn't so bad at all. They're a band with a big sound and they play no frills, blue jeans and t-shirts Rock and Roll. And friends, there's nothing wrong with that.
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Label:Liquor and Poker Music
Rating: (bearing in mind that I always spot a band a half a star for naked-womanness on the album art.)
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