Is it a hit, *hit or miss?
The Kicks - Hello Hong Kong 
by Mark Hensch

The Kicks - Hello Hong Kong
Label: Virgin Records
Hit, *hit or Miss?:  Miss

A lot of people hate pop rock.  In a world where any good looking group of girls and guys can get together, play some simple riffs, and sing catchy choruses in their boy/girl-band voices, that aforementioned hate might be well deserved.  The addition to said rock acts into the CD towers of trendy kids at school and as a set of scene noises for dimwitted sophomoric travesties like The O.C. doesn't exactly buy most struggling pop rock acts much credibility.

Various scattered bands of the world music scene are attempting to change such blatant stereotypes.  One of these bands is a band known as The Kicks, and their TVT Records debut Hello Hong Kong tries its very hardest.  At the very least, I am forced to give this band, and others like them, the tiniest bits of credit for at least trying to further the evolution of pop rock.  The Kicks play a largely radio-friendly brand of Eve 6 like airwaves rock that has a slight bite to it at times.  This rougher edge helps the band through several low points on this album, and the use of a keyboard to add wailing or trancy space effects also add some interest to the CD.  However, this CD is also not totally devoid of the Orange County Soundtrack curse; the lyrics are sometimes lame, bland, generic, and un-inventive, and beyond that, the Kicks' instrumentality occasionally lapses into bland surf rock at times before regaining it's slightly more intriguing composure.

 "Radar" blasts out with a nice amount of stereophonic kick and some vaguely socially conscious lyrics.  The almost screamed chorus of "NOOOO! You Got What You Wanted!" is like a bad case of Bubonic Plague.  Once you catch it, it is imbedded in your brain despite its almost whiny sound.  The song harder rock for this band, but soft when compared to most.  It's oddly like a hard punch from a friend who is joking with you; it is still a hard punch, but it doesn't really have much force between the two of you as it isn't intended to be truly heavy.  "What do I have to do?" is a soft-to distorted radio song that recalls Eve 6 a little too much, except for a surprising little screech laden interlude on the keyboards halfway through.  "Satellite" is a painted-by-numbers surf rock jam that has a modest attempt at a guitar solo nestled somewhere in the song.  "12 Steps" is a crooner ballad with slight distortion that already reeks of contrived teenage heartache.  Not even a background pulse of clean keyboard keys and a catchy guitar interlude saves this song wholly from pop rock destruction.  "Mir" is a tight song that has zipper rip riffs (listen and you can hear the little "zip" of guitars) and has an amusing chorus of "Cosmonaught, Cosmonaught, I wanna be a Astronaught Yuh ohhh."  This is one of the better songs on the CD, especially with a Weezeresque burst of clarity before the final rendition of the chorus.  "The Exorcist" begins with an awesomely strange intro that invokes some serious dreamy pop.  This tame little ditty will have girls swooning and most guys wishing they were somewhere else; it is however deceivingly catchy and considering what it sounds like it is a little fresh.  "Pop Star Radio Crown" is a highly ironic modern Beach Boys (what if the Beach Boys played musical volleyball with Weezer and maybe a little Blink-182?) song that seems to mock the general state of Pop Rock while turning any hope for a satire song into yet another love/heartbreak song with a sugary chorus.  "Bomb" is a almost hilariously lame heartbreaker type song.  "Pretty One" is a keyboard laden song that is just kind of there.  "Pill" soars into a driving riff with some rising guitar as more crooning about the world's hurts ensues with plenty of "yeah-ee-yeahs" to live off for a month.  

"Ninety-Nine" is largely boring song worthy of being Disney Channel fodder.  "Jet" is song #12 of lovey-dovey cinnamon rock with that slight little edge I mentioned before, and not much else besides.  This CD made little impression on me, and I count it as being of little value for redefining and changing pop rock for the better.  I also will admit to generally avoiding this style of music much like one would avoid an enraged grizzly bear, and after twelve sugary tunes I remember what started that aversion in my mind.  There is nothing truly unique here.  The songs are made somewhat intriguing by both their catchiness and keyboard effects, but besides all of that (which actually amounts to very little) this is nothing more than typical surfin' good pop rock.  As someone who generally prefers strange and/or insanely heavy music, pop rock bands need to be more inventive if they want to bring their lost brothers and sisters back to the sunny and carefree days of their popular music youths.  Certain bands (i.e. Weezer or Motion City Soundtrack or even the Postal Service) have helped do this regardless of how well they are liked or even how well they are known.  The Kicks as of right now are not one of those bands, but might have plenty of time to try. 

CD Info and Links

1.  Radar
2.  What Do I Have to Do?
3.  Satellite
4.  12 Steps
5.  Mir
6.  The Exorcist
7.  Pop Star Radio Crown
8.  Bomb
9.  Pretty One
10. Pill
11. Ninety-Nine
12. Jet
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online



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