One topic that people seem keen to write about in 2013 is how the pop climate has suddenly shifted to become friendly for more melodic, actual-instrument-playing music; a shift that has allowed for a song called “Ho Hey” that has nothing to do with hollering at prostitutes to crack the Top 5. Mumford and Sons have planted multiple flags in the Hot 100, and I suspect someone from Fox has been making sure that American Idol winner Phillip Phillips’s pleasant, earbuggy “Home” has been rising up the charts again to drum up enthusiasm for the show’s 12th season. Oh, and everyone seems to like that Ed Sheeran song about the crack addict. There seems to be a general agreement among the Skrillex-averse that this is a good thing; that acoustic guitars creeping back into Autotune and laptop territory means our pop songs are going to be more thoughtful and meaningful and good for society; promote healthier lifestyles and bring back our daughters from prom before midnight. This ain’t your mama’s rock and roll, kids! (She was more into Hole.)
Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather listen to last week’s generally reviled pick 20 times (and I have, trust me!) before listening to the earnest, vague stomp of “Ho Hey” again. “Ho Hey” wants to make me feel things and put it on a mix CD for my crush and make Blingees of its lyrics, but I already have those songs in my life; and even if I was looking for more, my first stop wouldn’t be KIIS FM. Ninety percent of the time such an endeavor is like ordering a salad at McDonald’s, or a mojito at a dive bar. They are not going to be able to give you the thing you asked for, and if they are, there’s a 99.9 percent chance it’s going to come from a can (or a bottle). Also, you will look like an asshole. Nobody wants to look like an asshole. Just order a domestic draft like everyone else; it will be delicious, I promise. When in Rome, YOLO and whatnot.
Or maybe I’m being a grumpy old man. Maybe there’s something in the Lumineers’ sound that the current generation of kids really feel like they can call their own and that I’m too removed to hear, like some kind of emotional dog whistle. There’s always a complicated interplay between “zeitgeist” and “gimmick,” and the presence of a cello player in a vintage frock usually doesn’t clarify matters. In the meantime, I think I’ve aged about 30 years while sitting down to try to figure it out in this column.
There are some NYC shout-outs, and a general call for more “love,” “family,” and “bleeding,” and a twee term of endearment anchoring the chorus — lyrically, “Ho Hey” ticks off all the boxes that make it a perfect primer for its own genre, like a “Rapper’s Delight” of New Folk Pop. Songsmiths Wesley Schultz and Jeremy Fraites (who I bet will really like being referred to as “songsmiths” when they read this) also have a knack for picking words that sound great when crooned over their lilting melodies, even if they don’t add up to much more than a barely woven-together collection of things that kind of sound like they should make you feel good.
If there’s one line that kind of makes me smile, it’s the line “But I can write a song,” leading into the first chorus. I’m a big sucker for lyrics about the singer’s own musical prowess (“They asked me if I would / Do a little number / And I sang with all my might,” “I can play the gee-tar like a motherfuckin’ riot,” etc.), and I don’t think it’s a false claim here, I just wish the rest of “Ho Hey” was inspiring enough to make it feel like an understatement.
Girl cellist notes
I think it’s cool the Lumineers brought a girl cellist/ukulelist along for the ride. Just look how happy she is to be here.