When Goldhawks frontman Bobby Long goes to sleep at night, he dreams that his band is onstage in front of a sold-out house at Corporate Sponsorship Stadium. While the band launches into the smash single “Keep the Fire”, Long gallops down the Bono ramp and out into the crowd. There, amid a sea of outstretched hands and glowing cell phones, Long slides his guitar around his back and drops to his knees. He calls for his band, playing anonymously under a thick cloud of smoke, to slow it down a step. Breathing heavily into his wireless microphone, Long asks the crowd for a little help with the chorus. He stretches out his arms and stares up at the JumboTron where he sees thousands of fevered faces screaming “We gotta keep this fire to keep burning on!” into the middle distance.
Such is the rarefied air that these young London upstarts not-so-secretly wish to occupy. With their buffed and polished debut album Trick of Light, these Goldhawks are hoping to go from the attic to the arena with very few stops on the way up. Unabashedly borrowing from U2 as well as other modern day practitioners of shamelessly gargantuan pop (Coldplay, The Killers), the Goldhawks have little use for subtlety. Nearly every moment of their album, from the bleacher-shaking anthems to the wailing-on-the-mountaintop ballads, seems engineered to propel the listener’s fist into the raised position. In an era that rarely rewards musicians for overreaching ambition (unless you happen to be Arcade Fire), it’s refreshing to see a young band swing so fearlessly for the fences.
Ambition, however, does not alone provide for a satisfying listening experience. The main cause of concern for these riled up lads appears to be seeing how many clichés can be packed into an 11-track album. While they have no problem copping their sound from early ‘80s U2, they have zero interest in any of the sort of subject matter that gave that music it’s heft. Almost all of Trick of Light‘s songs find Long shouting down a nameless lover for apparently not being on the same page as him. He’s hot under the collar, most likely due to all of that fire he’s been keeping, running from, or shouting into—this album has more fires than an entire season of Rescue Me. Long sings every note with honest-to-goodness, chest-clutching passion, yet boneheaded pleas like “We’re looking back on the world going up in flames / Back on the world never to be the same / Where in the world can we find the time to get away?” should ensure that those Springsteen comparisons dry up pretty quickly.
Ultimately it’s a shame the band isn’t aflutter over something a bit more specific. For all of its lyrical shortcomings, Trick of Light is teeming with catchy choruses and spirited performances. With the legendary Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters) in the producer’s chair, the band is filming in widescreen throughout. It’s easy to find yourself swept away by the massiveness of adrenalized album opener “Everytime I See You Cry”. With its chorus full of gang-shouted “Get Ready”‘s, the track seems designed to be played before major sporting events, as does the aforementioned “Keep the Fire”. When the needle stays pinned at 11, the words tend to become less distracting. If they’d only found a way to work a pair of down-on-their-luck meth addicts into “Up on the Altar”, the track would easily outshine anything from the latest Hold Steady album.
The band members, along with whoever bankrolled their lavishly produced record, believe they will have no problem charming legions of fans with their vapid yet crowd-pleasing arena-ready rock. They may very well find fast and easy success, but longevity seems unlikely unless they’re able to mature as songwriters. The people aren’t going to truly believe unless you give them something to believe in.