A sticker on the front of Hot Water Music’s The New What Next says, “The best punk band of the last decade doesn’t disappoint with their sixth full-length!” Okay, despite that “best punk band of the last decade” is a bold statement that discounts many lesser-known punk outfits like, say, the Thermals, this promotional sticker speaks volumes. Yes, the Gainesville, Florida four-piece has consistently been at or near the top of the punk-rock pyramid since getting started in 1997. And they’ve managed to adhere to the unspoken three-chord rule of punk rock without becoming boring. But “do not disappoint with their sixth full-length”? Is not disappointing reason enough?
With The New What Next, Hot Water Music is a bit more anthemic than on previous albums, which are harsher and more driving. The band focuses on melodies and seems to be getting more into tempo shifts. Opener “Poison” starts strong with vocal layering on their chorus: “You can’t erase them/ every lie you’ve told,” Chuck Wollard and Chris Ragan sing. You’d almost think the band wussed out until the second track, “The End of the Line,” kicks in. It’s a rapid return to what Hot Water Music does best: riff-heavy, angry punk.
This predilection for melodies over angry riffs reoccurs intermittently throughout the rest of The New What Next, particularly on the sing-along “There are Already Roses” and tame “Ink and Lead.” It suggests the band has defied that strange, unspoken punk-rock code — in fact, made some changes. But is it for the best? It’s not melodic enough to be emo, but Hot Water Music isn’t exactly the toughest band on the punk-rock block. Committed to not “disappoint,” the band sludges through without capitalizing on sonic and studio potential. And it seems they may be carving themselves out an unfortunate niche in watered-down punk anthems.