Sound — 7
When Hawthorne Heights endured the loss of guitarist Casey Calvert in 2007, the Dayton, Ohio, band had to overcome more than just the emotional aspect of losing a friend. In writing their latest album Fragile Future, the usual songwriting format was scrapped and the quartet found itself experimenting with everything from organs to strings. The result is an album that leans heavy on the pop side, and in a way that suits the cherubic vocal style of JT Woodruff. There are some surprisingly innovative moments with their instrumentation, but for the most part it's an album full of pleasant pop songs. There is a decided lack of the trademark screaming that was included in Hawthorne Heights' earlier work, and that absence does create a very different vibe to the tracks on the Howard Benson-produced Fragile Future. If the screaming was an aspect that you loved about the band, you'll be sadly disappointed with the new record. In terms of the songwriting, screaming certainly isn't necessary this time around. It's obvious they took more of a pop approach, and the addition of screaming would probably stick out like a sore thumb on some of these tracks. With or without screaming, the overall sound on Fragile Future can at times be run of the mill. The opening track 'The Business of Paper Stars' does lead in with a heavy rock into, but it immediately transitions to a restrained, laid-back vibe during the verses. This does tend to be a common format to the songs, and usually it's the vocals that are given the full attention. In fact, it is the impressive vocal layering that often stands out the most. While as a whole Fragile Future doesn't make a huge impression, there are a few tracks that offer some interesting sections. 'Until The Judgment Day' beings like any other pop rock track until you hit the halfway mark. It's at that point when there's a strange transition that you might get in an epic-type song. The section only lasts for about 20 or 30 seconds, but it's a refreshing change from the usual pop format. 'Sugar In The Engine' allows Woodruff the opportunity to sing in a lower register, and it gives the track a more mature sound. 'Corps of Corpses' goes out on a ledge by incorporating almost a circus-like organ in it's intro and it's very possibly the coolest moment on the album.
Lyrics — 8
The passing of Calvert did have an impact on the band, but it's only lyrically evident on the track 'Four Become One.' It's a touching ode to the former guitarist with lyrics such as, 'And you will live on/ Our hearts will beat stronger/ As we remain as one/ We will last just a little while longer.' The rest of the album does tend to revolve around the usual relationship themes, so 'Four Become One' immediately stands out as being the most heartfelt and honest track among the bunch.
Overall Impression — 7
There is a distinct change in sound on Fragile Future, and Hawthorne Heights should be applauded for trying out new instrumentation and ideas. It's great to hear some piano in the finale 'Come Back Home' or even a straightforward rock sound in '321', but for the most part the album does have a very heavy pop feel to it. It's possible the inclusion of screaming could have added a bit harder edge, but in the end the band does tend to stick with a pop formula. Fragile Future is impressive in terms of production, however, and it's an album that deserves a few listens to hear all of the layers and textures that were recorded.