Picking up where the Knock Knock Knock EP left off, Make Up the Breakdown completes Hot Hot Heat's transformation from a purveyor of the noisy synth-punk displayed on the band's debut into a polished, but still edgy, pop group. Where some of their contemporaries delve into '60s garage or '70s post-punk, Hot Hot Heat specializes in re-creating and reinvigorating the new wave of the late '70s and early '80s -- not the overly hairsprayed and eyelinered variety, but the geeky, abrasive pop pioneered by Elvis Costello, the Cars, Joe Jackson, and especially XTC, whose Drums and Wires and English Settlement seem to have been particularly influential on Make Up the Breakdown. The album's shiny but unobtrusive production adds to its retro quality -- it sounds like it's been hiding since 1981 and was just unearthed recently. That only adds to the charm of paranoid pop songs like "No, Not Now," "Bandages," and "Oh Goddamnit," which, with their tense hooks and witty wordplay, come close to matching the greatness of their influences. Fortunately, Hot Hot Heat avoids sounding merely derivative because of the vitality and enthusiasm the band brings to its music -- virtually every track on Make Up the Breakdown bristles with nervous energy and catchy melodies that are entirely the group's own. Indeed, that the album packs so many tightly wound pop songs into just over half an hour is both a blessing and a curse -- on the first few listens, Make Up the Breakdown tends to whiz by in a blur of yelped, Andy Partridge-esque vocals and angular riffs and rhythms. It's not until the final track, "Cairo," that the members of Hot Hot Heat catch their breath and open up their sound. Based on a pretty, winding piano melody, the song offers a darker, slightly different twist on their style and suggests that they're preparing to make an even bigger leap on their next album than they did on this one. Still, what Hot Hot Heat lacks in diversity is more than made up for in quality -- Make Up the Breakdown is an addictive, densely packed pop gem that ranks among 2002's best albums.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares