If this retro movement is to escape the scrapheap of comical irrelevance, it's going to need groups that transcend their own visual aesthetics -- and judging from their recent CD, Make Up the Breakdown, the sharp-dressed young men in Hot Hot Heat might just be up to the challenge. Unlike some of its more time-capsuled peers, the Victoria, B.C., act exhibits a classically mod-ish use of keyboards, some post-hardcore guitar jitters, and a jerky, early-XTC melodicism. And close inspection of the words behind Steve Bays' new-wavy crackle reveals a knack for sad romantic-comedy that recalls the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley. Wound tightly into 10 blustery little tunes, this formula yielded the catchiest rock record of 2002.
But as fervently as its tight pop hooks Velcro themselves to the brain, Make Up the Breakdown is so stylized that it barely penetrates the viscera. Unless Hot Hot Heat and its contemporaries opt for more than clever sonic couture in the future, Rolling Stone's news flash could announce "Rap-metal is back!" sooner than we expect.