Good luck picking them out of a crowd, but in the teen-centric world of emo, the Warped Tour, and MySpace, Ohio quintet Hawthorne Heights are superstars. Seriously. Their last album, 2004’s The Silence in Black and White, has sold over 750,000 copies, without radio’s help. And now their second album on indie Victory Records, If Only You Were Lonely, is a strong bet to debut this week on top of the Billboard album chart. That’s the paradox of the decade-old genre — it’s hugely popular, while oddly low-profile.
Still, Hawthorne Heights’ popularity isn’t surprising, really. The dudes are marketing whizzes: They’ve signed up over 340,000 ”friends” on MySpace, play over 150 shows a year, and sell their merch to mopey-teen mall franchises like Hot Topic. And then there’s the music. If Only You Were Lonely slickly synthesizes a bunch of post-’90s micro-genres — JT Woodruff’s hypersensitive crooning is swoonworthy, the Iron Maiden-style triple-guitar attack attracts muso geeks, while the bursts of agro catharsis are a draw for even the jock-rock contingent.
Please everybody, however, and you often end up wowing nobody. For a band that’s done so well, their latest is surprisingly banal, bland, and — most importantly — hook deficient. The plaintive pre-breakup track ”Saying Sorry” sure sounds a lot like the mournful post-breakup cut ”Pens and Needles.” And the sonic aesthetic — the album sounds like it was recorded in an antiseptic operating room — makes it worse. They’re the Collective Soul of emo: a competent band that’ll sell truckloads, but will we remember them in a decade?