The Kicks

Hello Hong Kong

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    6
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The Kicks return with Hello Hong Kong, a second album that actually plays more like a revamped version of their debut: seven songs -- more than half the album -- originally appeared on The Kicks. This is somewhat excusable, considering that Hello Hong Kong is the Kicks' major-label debut and the Kicks had a lot of hooky songs that make for a good introduction to the band. However, some of these songs seem to have suffered a bit during their major-label makeovers; Butch Vig's trademark shiny production tends to make the band's already radio-friendly melodies and hooks sound slick and generic instead of appealing. While the most urgent songs ("Radar") cut through the sheen and the poppiest ones ("Satellite," "Mir," and "Pop Star Radio Crown") work with it, the tracks that fall in-between these extremes sound even more in-between than they did before. As for Hello Hong Kong's new songs, "What Do I Have to Do?" is one of the better offerings, with a desperate, bordering on pathological chorus that is equally catchy and creepy. "12 Steps" flirts with emo earnestness, and "The Exorcist"'s wry but vulnerable look at relationship woes recalls Pinkerton-era Weezer (as does "Ninety-Nine," an "I'm into her, but she's into girls" rant that could be a rewrite of "Pink Triangle"). Indeed, Hello Hong Kong's main flaw is that it sounds like a block of modern rock radio programming all by itself; while the Kicks are adept at sampling from power pop, punk-pop, and emo, crafting something truly distinctive-sounding from those influences still eludes them. Even the album's most unique moment, a mix of crooning, faux-British vocals, cheesy synths, and big guitars known as "Pretty One," doesn't feel convincing as anything other than a crafty pastiche. Hello Hong Kong isn't at all a bad album, but it does suggest that the Kicks might be too competent at sounding like other bands for their own good.

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