One glance at the sleeve of this debut album by The Empty Hearts tells you pretty much all you need to know about the music inside. A side project featuring Blondie drummer Clem Burke, Cars guitarist Elliott Easton, Chesterfield Kinds bassist Andy Babiuk and Romantics singer Wally Palmar, The Empty Hearts pose elegantly sixties style, appropriating the image of The Who on their debut album, gazing upwards at a photographer on a ladder, with a selection of guitars, including a pale blue Vox Teardrop bass, that could only have come from Vintage & Rare. I suspect their amps have too. Hell, Clem even wears a white target top.
The obvious influence is the tougher end of sixties power pop, with most reviewers pointing to those wonderful mid-decade singles by the Stones, Who and Kinks, but I think the Hearts have dug a bit deeper into their record collections and listened again to Beck/Page era Yardbirds and Roy Wood’s Move, and they also tip their hat to Cheap Trick and the garage rock that Lenny Kaye unearthed in 1972 for the first Nuggets compilation. Either way, all four of these grade-A students of rock history must have had a whale of a time writing and playing songs that pay tribute to their formative Brit influences yet at the same bring them into the modern era with crisp production, faultless playing and a rippling feel for the music, passion really, that rocks hard from beginning to end.
Indeed, the pace of the album only really lets up twice, on ‘Fill An Empty Heart’, the nearest thing to a title track, which sparkles with the rhythmic acoustic guitar that The Beatles introduced on ‘Things We Said Today’ and a deeper, more rounded Telecaster tone for the fills; and on ‘I Found You Again’, a country rock song, all stetsons and pedal steel, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo Byrds. An acoustic version tacked on as a bonus features Ian McLagan on honky-tonk piano, and Mac’s Hammond can be heard on several others songs.
Everywhere else is pretty much full tilt, half the fun spotting the licks that have been retooled and re-energised. ‘Soul Deep’ channels their inner Kinks, a sort of cross between the first two their singles and the first two by The Who, and ‘(I See) No Way Out’ features a pause at the end of the verse that I could swear was lifted from a similar split second in ‘I Can See For Miles’. ‘Perfect World’ moves more into punk territory and ‘Drop Me Off At Home’ sounds like a Keef sketch he was working on around the time of Sticky Fingers. The closing song ‘Meet Me Round The Corner’, all reverberated distorted guitar and harmonica, is a dead ringer for a Beck-special Happenings Yardbirds number.
All of which might suggest The Empty Hearts don’t have any ideas of their own but this far from the case. They might sound like guys aching to play cover versions of their favourite Brit Invasion songs through dusty old valve amps they just found in a second-hand store but their licks are new, the songs are fresh and their approach is a compliment, not an imitation. The vocals, both lead and back-up, leap from the speakers, the guitars are solid and melodic – never overstretched, never metallic – and the drumming both rock-solid and inventive, with no click-tracks, as you would expect from the guy who bounded through ‘Dreaming’ like an express train.