Musician Seth Bogart has been delivering his brand of queer retro-pop for several years now, but his first solo album does him no special favors. Discarding with the backing vocals of his previous, non-solo, release Too Young to Be In Love, Hairdresser Blues assumes that Bogart’s voice and lyrics can do the heavy lifting. And, frankly, they’re just not quite up to the task.
Though the album is a dash darker than its 2011 predecessor, it’s far from sullen. Hairdresser Blues is sweet and sticky, and though there’s not much variety, Hunx tries his hardest to bring a more serious turn to his girl-group/garage aesthetic. There’s the sense that Bogart was trying to tamper down some the ironic distance that was present on Too Young to Be in Love. The thing is, no one goes to see a Ronettes impersonator and then wishes it were more stripped-down.
One of Hunx’s biggest selling points is Bogart’s play with gender, with a male singer-songwriter given the roles most often thrown to a Shirelle or a Chiffon. His plaintive croon offers up a male body refreshingly freed to be passive, but this isn’t a gender studies course, so let’s move on.
While Hairdresser Blues is technically a solo album, let’s be honest – Bogart has always been the guiding force behind his sound and style, and the sudden absence of his backing ladies is a detriment, not an asset. Though the explicitly girl-group sound is discarded in favor of a certain seriousness, Hunx was stronger with the girls and the glitz in the background.
Because what made their debut sparkle with sincerity and charm is lost on a second try; Hairdresser Blues simply feels overly familiar. It could be the bonus disc to Too Young to be in Love , and no one would know the difference. Oh, it’s a little moodier (particularly on album closer, “When You’re Gone”, which offers a heavier tone that would have served the rest of the album well). True, Hunx have always been something of a one-trick pony stylistically. And for those who find that style appealing (yours truly), it’s kittens and rose petals. But even for us bouffant-loving Ronettes-idolators, there’s a breaking point.
I date it from about halfway through the album, before which I had been blissfully nodding my head in dreams of pre-Beatles pop. But then it hit me – this is all there is. It’s sweet, it’s charming, Bogart isn’t much of a singer but doesn’t have to be – but it’s all a bit boring. A bit flat. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s poppy; hell, by track two, I was convinced I had a contender for a top album of 2012. I’m starting to think otherwise. Not a bad album, by any means – it’s just a one-way street.
Hairdresser Blues is catchy and sunny and sweet and yes, a little repetitive, but it’ll make great background music. The riffs are neat and the lyrics are simple, and not every band has to be Arcade Fire, after all. But it’s a strange mix of tongue-in-cheek and deadpan sincerity, and some strikes hit home more than others (“Let Me In” and “Set Them Free” being standouts).
After going back and listening to Too Young to Be In Love again, I was struck by its freshness, its sweetness, its willingness to be silly and confidence that that was enough. Hairdresser Blues, by contrast, keeps the basic elements but postures with a certain solemn seriousness. Basically, bring the girls back, and let’s have fun.