Hula Hoop's last fulllength album, My Sweet Amputee, came out in 1993.
Despite the time lag, Hula Hoop's new album, The Loveliest Ring of Saturn, sounds a lot like a close followup to the brilliant Amputee. A newcomer to the sounworld of Hula Hoop might think this is slow growth. They don't know the half of it. Since recording this album with Albinimate Bob Weston last winter, Hula Hoop lost bassist Rachel Grimes and wrote enough songs for a complete album. In fact, they are already recording it. Thus, The Loveliest Ring of Saturn chronicles a long-gone era of the band.
But hey, the sun emitted those rays of sunshine some time ago, but that doesn't make me enjoy them on my face any less — likewise, it has taken Hula Hoop a while to deliver another batch of songs, but the wait hasn't made them any less enjoyable. Eric Stoess' primitive guitar explorations still uncover great sonic ideas, Chuck Geisler's level seething once again makes lyrics seem meaner than they really are, and drummer Stephen Jones makes even the darkest songs in the Hula repertoire seem ebullient.
The appeal of Hula Hoop rests mainly in the poppy way in which melodies start and the chaotic way in which they finally bear fruit. Geisler and Stoess both use the electric guitar like a cudgel, a scalpel, and a percussion instrument, alternately lacerating with a brief "solo," chugging through some mighty big riffs, or punctuating the rhythm with little bits. A freedom rings in the guitar parts, making it really hard to hit a "wrong" note amid the riffing, noodling and insistent ﬁgures. Grimes, with bouncy low parts on bass, and Jones, with a steady rock tattoo on the drums, keep the proceedings grounded in accessibility.
My Sweet Amputee had a few anthems and a couple of bona fide jewels, while The Loveliest Ring of Saturn is more consistent but lacks any one spectacular cut. But the growth that is here promises much. Lyrics, sometimes a problem for the Geisler-Stoess songwriting team, improve somewhat on Saturn.
"Umbrella" is a well-constructed vignette about a marriage doomed from the start; the song's spiritual cousin may be Amputee's "Sometimes I Feel Just All Right," "X-Ray" shows the way Stoess and Hula Hoop can riff on an obscure idea; "Dreamsicle '95" is a less successful attempt to see analogies among life's simple pleasures. "Midget Love" and an uncredited bonus track "Jasper" find Geisler successfully contributing tunes about the stunted growth of love and reasons to hit the road. Geisler's use of acoustic guitars on several tracks opens up an entirely new area of exploration for the band..
The production for Saturn allows for rough edges and punk immediacy, without sounding hopelessly 8-trackish like My Sweet Amputee's sound. The lo-ﬁ movement has revamped rock 'n' roll just in time to validate Hula Hoop's "honest" production ethic. And while Hula Hoop's blend of pop and noise was closer to cutting edge a few years ago, the sound is still a contender for modern rock success. The Loveliest Ring Of Saturn is proof of that.