[19 August 2008]
Session-toned and already half-famous (Leisha Hailey’s a noted actress, currently starring in television’s The L Word), L.A.’s Uh Huh Her resurrects the new wave with mixed results on its sophomore outing, Common Reaction. Remarkably well-versed in ‘80s sonic textures, the duo have crafted a tight-knit sound based on the interplay of Hailey’s breathy alto and instrumentalist Camila Grey’s angelic harmonies. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to salvage Common Reaction’s dull second half.
“Not A Love Song” is a sweeping introduction with some unexpected vocal turns that – like much of the rest of the album – never skimps on the synths. It’s a would-be ‘80s classic that serves as the perfect vehicle for Hailey’s sultry delivery: half-whisper, half wail. Next up, “Explode” raises the stakes with some spooky fuzz bass reminiscent of Radiohead chiller “Climbing Up The Walls.” Listen for Grey’s deft Casio grid in the final half-minute, as Hailey’s voice whips around gracefully in the upper register. Further on, “Wait Another Day” follows with an arena-sized hook and more glittering electronics, while the title track heads straight for the dance floor with a splashy hi-hat, tambourine and elegant staccato melody from Hailey.
With such solid material packed into its first half, it’s a shame that the album slides into mediocrity during act two. “Everyone” evokes both the Cure and early Michael Jackson, but little else. Likewise, the beat to “Away From Here” is the obvious work of Depeche Mode disciples, but its loping vocal melody culminates in a chorus that’s merely adequate at best. While it’s true that Uh Huh Her never set out to push the envelope, they should realize that when walking that oh-so-fine line between fresh, artful homage and iffy revivalism, the secret’s in the songs. Sadly, it’s really no exaggeration to say that “So Long” and “Dance With Me” are utterly forgettable pieces of music. Closing ballad “Dreamer” does offer some slight improvement, but it never reaches the level of the first five or six tunes.
Part of the problem is the banal uniformity of subject matter. From top to bottom, Common Reaction is a set of completely vague love songs. Looking back on the titles, it’s difficult to remember what any of the individual songs sound like. Some tracks, like “Not A Love Song” (which, – you guessed it – is an ironic title) are about brokenhearted resignation, while others (“Wait Another Day”) are about blind devotion. Overall though, the lyrical heart of the album is overtly sentimental. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it does place an increased emphasis on the musical dressing. It doesn’t help, then, that much of it sounds borrowed on this album.
At the end of the day, Common Reaction is just another throwback to the music of the 1980s. Songs like “Explode” and “Wait Another Day” approximate the new wave lexicon expertly and are indeed pleasurable listens, but don’t expect to find anything here that’s going to make a big emotional impact. You’ve heard all of these sentiments before. You’ve heard these sounds before. The question is, how bad do you miss 1984?