There’s something halfway charming about a band as seemingly free of novelty as Minnesota’s the Idle Hands. Read any of the press the band has received, and the most intriguing angle the authors can muster is that two of the band-mates are brothers from Ireland and choose to go by surname-free monikers (Ciaran is the singer, Criostoir is the bassist). Not entirely fascinating, though more hype has been made with less (or, in the case of Oasis, a great deal of hype for roughly the same amount of intrigue). Refreshingly, this leaves little to talk about but the music, but the story is pretty similar in that regard as well. The Idle Hands debut, The Hearts We Broke On Our Way to the Show, is charged by the sort of innovation-free guitar rock that, while mostly competently executed, ostensibly doesn’t desire to distinguish itself.
The roughest patches of The Hearts We Broke On Our Way to the Show are unsurprisingly tied to the moments when Ciaran feels the impulse to get a little cheeky. Opener “Loaded” finds Ciaran attempting to assume Craig Finn’s well-earned position as scene-chronicling poet with underwhelming results. The choruses are pretty much a litany of the variety of scenesters followed by the phrase “…get loaded.” To wit: “All the unrequited emo boys get loaded/ all the hopped up kids with their junkie friends get loaded.” That’s really about as insightful as “Loaded” gets. It’s difficult to tell if the purpose of the song is to suggest that, despite the superficial trappings of each listed scene, we’re unified by a love of getting fucked up. On the other hand, there’s an equal chance that the choruses are meant as a snotty and derisive dismissal of the way scenesters choose to identify themselves, despite the fact that these distinctions are essentially meaningless. Regardless of the Idle Hands intention, these views are hardly revelatory, and trying to assume the ill-fitting role of glib social commentator when you don’t have much to say is a poor way to begin your debut album. If nothing else, “Loaded” serves to underscore how funny it sounds when someone says, “backpack kids” really fast.
Even the Idle Hands better songs frequently fall victim to underdeveloped lyrics. The otherwise appealing “Secretary” opens with the half-baked “Met at the party/ all the drinks were dead,” a distinctly lame personification. Fortunately, the chorus of “I’ve lost you now” contains no such pretensions and is attached to a particularly engaging high-pitched chorus. Bizarrely, Ciaran’s voice thrives in this register, despite the fact that he clearly doesn’t have the lungs to really belt out a falsetto. His usual baritone, though fuller, regularly makes him sound like Jarvis Cocker with a head cold. Luckily, the material doesn’t demand much range.
And again, there are few compositions here that qualify as bad (well, maybe the dance-punk cover of “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex, which is a little heretical), but at their best, the Idle Hands are almost defiantly slight. It’s almost admirable how unconcerned the Idle Hands are with the notion of bringing something new to the table. The musicians sound assured and in control, and that confidence is a mixed blessing. Sure, they play with vitality, but what’s to spur them into trying something new if they’re so pleased with where they are right now?