[9 August 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Rockford, Illinois, hasn’t made much of an impact on the music world since Cheap Trick burst out in the late 1970s. The synth/rock trio Hey Champ are changing that. Hey Champ bring an Ivy League sophistication to their Midwestern sensibility, though, as two of the three band members are Princeton grads. Those smarts show on the first third of Star. “Shake” is a cathartic anthem with start/stop rhythms, shrill synths, and laser-sharp guitar lines. The ponderous, midtempo New Order pastiche “Word=War” manages a mix of detachment and pathos that would make its inspiration proud. And you might well have heard the YouTube hit “Cold Dust Girl”, a slay-the-club-diva-with-charm anthem that’s so slick, countless teenybopper girls have doubtless danced to it without even noticing the mild chauvinism. You won’t hear a more perfectly crafted trio of pop songs all year.
The rest of Star doesn’t live up, unfortunately, due to a couple issues. For one, Hey Champ just aren’t very original songwriters. They struggle to stretch the synth-rock formula. The more rockin’ they get, though, the less effective they sound. Also, the crystalline production has squeezed out much of the dynamic energy of their don’t-miss live show. Star holds its own with similar-minded bands like Van She and Filthy Dukes. It also suggests Hey Champ may be cut out for something more.