American Hi-Fi Biography
On paper, American Hi-Fi is a great band. The brand new, Boston-based quartet certainly boasts a strong pop pedigree; lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Stacy Jones earned his stripes as the drummer for Boston’s beloved jangle popsters Letters to Cleo and later with Chicago’s girly-metal favorites Veruca Salt. Drummer Brian Nolan was a member of the defunct Chicago rock band Figdish. Also, the band happily provides an impressive list of albums that influenced them, those of which range from underground staples like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and the Pixies’ Doolittle to classic rock standards like Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Kiss’ Double Platinum to power pop blueprints of the ‘70s (Cheap Trick’s In Color), ‘80s (Redd Kross’ Phaseshifter) and ‘90s (Weezer’s self-titled debut).
Aye, there’s the rub. On paper, Matchbox 20 could be called “earnest, soulful rock,” Limp Bizkit would be “hip hop and rock with an aggressive, in-your-face attitude,” and the Barenaked Ladies are “quirky, fun-loving pop.” Point is, these third-rate descriptions are utterly useless and best left to Sam Goody ads and music reviews in Seventeen. These three examples alone should drive home the fact that all the colorful and essentially euphemistic press descriptions, influences, and band connections don’t mean a damn thing if the music can’t hold its own.
And so, on to American Hi-Fi. It definitely would be unfair to lump a wide-eyed, well-meaning rookie band in with seasoned veterans of dreck. But American Hi-Fi also doesn’t allow itself to be placed on the opposite end of the spectrum. In a time where it’s increasingly crucial for a band to display something distinctive and original in their work, American Hi-Fi is utterly ordinary.
Not that any of this is their fault, or even a fault. Since American Hi-Fi’s style of arena-sized power riffs married with delicious pop hooks has been done time and again in rock, there’s really nothing left for the band to distinguish itself. The aforementioned power pop pioneers had something special; Cheap Trick was bafflingly brilliant and ridiculously perverse in a time when lifeless ‘70s dinosaur rock was king, while Weezer’s goofy, nerdy charm struck a chord with listeners burnt out on dour grunge rock. American Hi-Fi has nothing of this sort to speak of.
Which is not to say that they can’t be reasonably successful on a level based purely on enjoyment; you simply can’t deny the power of an infectious hook, and this album, to its credit, clearly isn’t lacking in this department. The first single, “Flavor of the Weak,” in a three minute burst of driving riffs and pop hooks, laments the situation of a woman relegated to “flavor” status by her philandering boyfriend. The remaining tracks, the standouts of which include “Hi-Fi Killer” and “Scar,” mine similar territory with an admirable effectiveness.
Unfortunately, that’s where it ends; American Hi-Fi can only be admired and enjoyed on a superficial level—which they completely deserve, since Stacy Jones definitely knows his way around a catchy rock song. But, in the end, power pop bands are a dime a dozen—Everclear, Lit, Green Day, take your pick—which ultimately leaves all bands of the genre with a heavy burden to take their songwriting to a more meaningful and memorable level.
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