[30 November 2004]
It all starts so innocently. A little heavy-handed, yes, but innocent nonetheless. Some minor-chord guitar plucks, destitute and plaintive, a resolute drum pattern, some strings waking from hibernation. And then the floodgates open. The special effects team is brought in and the band lets loose in full Jerry Bruckheimer bombast. It’s like a swarm of killer bees, all portrayed by Hollywood’s A-list, of course. Guitars are set aflame, the strings grow paranoid and overbearing; so concludes an overture that flexes its oppressive muscles in order to convince us of its utmost importance.
The song is “The Black Amnesias”, the lead-off instrumental to The Lost Riots. The band is Hope of the States, the next hurrah from England, and heir to its operatic art-rock throne. These first five minutes set a recurring (and eventually, irritating) motif in motion: the song that tensely builds like magma climbing up a volcano’s walls, exploding in a climax of exorbitant braggadocio. The Lost Riots was produced by Ken Thomas, best known for sculpting the chasmal panoramas of Sigur Ros. There’s a similar air of self-importance and monumental dramatics in The Lost Riots’ most trying moments. It’s all so serious, so overwhelming, this rock music lifting the weight of the world itself on its shoulders.
Songs like “Black Dollar Bills” and “Goodhorsehymn” follow in the furious steps of “The Black Amnesias”, launching orgasms of frustration. Lungs expand, cymbals engorge; lungs contract, strings punish like thunderbolts. Occasionally, some songs dial back the histrionics, much to their benefit. “Don’t Go to Pieces” and “George Washington” both exercise restraint, showcasing the band’s strong ability to render a sincere emotional impact without the sheen of bells and whistles. One can only wonder how much stronger The Lost Riots would have been if the strings had been used sympathetically as they are in these waning minutes.
Throughout the album, Hope of the States operates at a breaking point, disillusioned with the world’s penchant for destruction and hypocrisy. On paper, The Lost Riots appears to be a politically charged manifesto of sorts, its aim focused on the United States (primarily inferred from song titles such as “The Red The White The Black The Blue”, “George Washington”, and “1776”). But Hope of the States doesn’t opt to be so distinct in the songs themselves. Precautions are issued (“You beat us black and blue / We’re coming back to fight you”), defiance is flaunted (“You can’t buy us with your dollar bills”), futility is acknowledged (“We all hope for anything when there’s nothing at all”), and then validated (“I used to think I had something to say / But my dumb ideologies gave me away”). The band’s hearts and minds are in the right place, but the sheer impudence of the music negates the fight they so nobly wage. In the end, it’s like a giant protest march that does more harm than good, blocking the major arteries of a city while promoting its cause.
The most glaring problem with The Lost Riots is that it’s just no fun. Hope of the States is a brooding, incorrigible pooper that crashes the world’s party. Like the actor who wins the Oscar for crying, The Lost Riots goes right to the emotional jugular, favoring repetitious browbeating over more nuanced subtleties. The argument could be made that Hope of the States is only trying to make some redemptive noise in order to rise above the din of the world’s sorrows. Point taken. But seriously, let’s lighten up and cut out the maudlin pretense. Some of us will be more apt to prick up our ears when they’re not being assaulted by saccharine deluges of hope and fear.