Like Ke$ha without the Jack Daniel's bottle, Hot Chelle Rae specializes in watered-down party music -- its polished summer smash "Tonight Tonight," with the line about dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign, is as crazy as this Nashville pop-rock quartet gets.
Talented people are in this band, beginning with Ryan Follese, who has an effective regular-guy falsetto, but "Whatever" (RCA) has the feel of filling studio quotas. "Tonight Tonight" is here, as are such studied reproductions as "I Like It Like That" and "Downtown Girl"; "Beautiful Freaks" is the requisite dance anthem, with the Auto-Tuned "oh oh oh oh oh" chorus and layered synth bursts; and weepy ballads "Why Don't You Love Me" and "The Only One" follow Good Charlotte and OneRepublic blueprints.
There may be more to Hot Chelle Rae than the band shows on its second album. All four members have well-known parents in the music business, including bassist Ian Keaggy, whose father, Phil, is a prolific contemporary-Christian singer and guitarist. So on "Radio," this line pops up out of nowhere: "I stayed up till 5 last night just to say I miss you / Thank God for free Wi-Fi / And the key to the minibar / We fell asleep on Skype / I almost missed my flight." If this kind of strong songwriting points the way forward, Hot Chelle Rae might have a chance to break out of its formula and build on "Tonight Tonight."
HOT CHELLE RAE
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BOTTOM LINE Watered-down party rock from the band behind "Tonight Tonight"