The Neon Handshake, by Hell is for Heroes
Suggested by Rob Wagner
Let’s get this straight: I quite liked this album.
When I listen to music for this project, it’s shoehorned around my life. I’m a relatively busy man, and the project itself is a large undertaking. Sometimes my listening is punctuated by work calls, or Amazon deliveries, of kitten attacks. And sometimes I’m tinkering on an Excel sheet and I need to restream the last song or two, like rereading a paragraph multiple times after a brief zoning out.
I fit the reviews around my life too. On a workday, I try to knock one out in my lunch break. Then another before dinner, and the third in the evening. Sometimes meetings intrude, or prior evening commitments. And sometimes I just sit and stare at a blank page far too long, racking my brain for yet another way to say something I’ve said thirty times before.
It’s not often I return to an album. I’ve re-listened to a few smashers in my obvious spare time, but I can count them on one hand.
The Neon Handshake? I listened to it twice. Back to back.
The first time, I was mildly impressed. The first song, Five Kids Go, set a pleasing blueprint of the album to come. Some fine rock punk guitar, clanging echo drums, and a punchy rock vocal with enough growl to provide a little menace but not enough to turn me off. The next few songs kept this up, and I toe-tapped and nodded and hummed the choruses like a boss.
Then I answered an email, worked on a spreadsheet, and the album ended. And when I turned my thoughts to my review, I found myself at a loss. The album left me with a vaguely happy demeanour, but I couldn’t recall a single point of real interest.
I fired it up again, determined to give it more focus. After all, it did nothing to deserve such a tepid and unmemorable reaction; as I said, I found it quite enjoyable. On the second listen, I was able to highlight my favourite song, the almost aspirational I Can Climb Mountains. I also marked Retreat as a rare pleasure, a final track on a rock album that brings the band’s most pop-like sound.
Another thing I noticed on my second listen was the band’s love of a melodic build. Stab a pin into any bar on any song, and you’ll jab the start of a crescendo build to a melodic pause and bouncing rock release. There’s nothing wrong with that trope, but it does seem a little overused.
Once the album finished, I was happy enough. By then, it was time for tea. We ate, and watched some TV, before I returned to write my review with a smile. But again, I found myself scrabbling around for things to say. The album had slithered from my mind once more, leaving little but a snakeskin shell, a ghost of something fun that’s waved away like vape smoke.
Unfortunately, that’s my takeaway from Hell is for Heroes, aside from the fact that their name sounds like a placard by the Westboro Baptist Church. Nice songs, good sound, but pretty damn forgettable. I’ll give The Neon Handshake 6/10, because I think I remember it fondly.