Here’s a (potentially) controversial question: Should music made by black people sound distinctively black? To be more descriptive, ought we to expect such music to have touches of soul, rap, R&B or funk in it somewhere in its mixes? After all, aren’t these the factors that make music black? Well, it’s doubtful Tracy Chapman, Living Color or Charley Pride would answer these two questions in the affirmative. And you can add the brotherly quartet Hero The Band to this list of dissenters. Their album Bleach is filled with sounds inspired by 80s/90s pop. Their album is not, however, particularly ‘black’ sounding — whatever that term means.
Bleach — a word that can be synonym for whitening, is likely unintended to mean that here – is an album comprised of fully produced tracks. Some sound like 80s songs, others come off more like 90s pieces, but all are filled with plenty of production bells and whistles. “Never Know,” for example, features a tortured vocal chorus akin to Tears For Fears hits from that band’s heyday, circa The Hurting/Songs from the Big Chair in the 80s.
Also, much like Tears For Fears, this group is consistently earnest – perhaps earnest to a fault. Take a song titled “Hot Tub Time Machine,” for example. Unlike that 2010 movie of the same name, which was a science fiction adventure comedy starring John Cusack Craig Robinson, Crispin Clover, Chevy Chase and others, this Hero the Band track is by no means silly. In fact, the title doesn’t even seem to fit the direction of the song, which is kind of heavy.
Although most of these tracks are packed to the gills with a whole lot of instrumentation, the short “Velo” features nothing more than the four brothers harmonizing over what sounds like a lone acoustic bass. It’s a fine song, and a beautifully stark contrast to the album’s other busier recordings.
The album’s best anthem is called “Live for Us.” It features an oh-oh-oh vocal chorus and big, electric guitars. “Let’s live for us,” they repeat during the song. Instead of going all my-way-or-the-highway, this song encourages human unity. It ends with a snippet of what sounds like Gregorian chant music. “Guardian,” which also features a special guest appearance by Nivea, is a positive song. It seems as though the ‘guardians’ it speaks of, are being likened to human guardian angels.
One called “A.T.L.” might seem to be about the city of Atlanta, at least on the surface, but it’s not. Instead, it’s an acronym for ‘All Time Low.” Although it adds the contemporary touch of incorporating Willie Hynn’s rap in the mix, these rapped verses don’t measurably improve the song much.
Although this album’s sharp production touches are admirable, these elements sometimes obscure the music’s base values. It’s sometimes seems as though a little too much emphasis is placed upon the sound of the songs, instead of the content of the songs themselves. And isn’t that the truth with a lot of music from the 80s and 90s? It all sounded so big and bold that it was sometimes difficult to decipher original fashion from the emperor’s new clothes, so to speak.
With that said, though, there is enough substance on Bleach to recommend this talented act.