The Hard Lessons have been Detroit’s best-kept secret for a few years now, with 2005’s full-length debut, Gasoline, trouncing just about every garage-rock album released that year, including the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan. And yeah, you read that right: With its marriage of crunchy guitars, exploding drums, and countrified vocals, the Lessons made Satan look sort of tired in comparison. If Jack had taken a few more notes while producing Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, maybe this would be a discussion about which album kicked more ass, Gasoline or Satan. But it’s not. The Lessons win it, hands down.
Wise Up! is the bands’ five-song EP follow-up to Gasoline and, while it’s not nearly as accomplished, its moments of genius suggest their next full-length is going to show some real growth and maybe even get them the invite to the big leagues they rightfully deserve. The Lessons’ strengths, as always, are Agostinio Visocchi’s guitar, which he attacks with a Dave Grohl-like ferocity, Christophe Zajac Denek’s drums, which he attacks with a Dave-Grohl-like ferocity, and organist Korin Louise Cox’s twangy vocals that are, well, decidedly un-Grohl-like. In fact, she sounds more Linda Rondstadt covered by Natalie Merchant. Together with Viscocchi, who shares lead-vocal duties, the Lessons — with their Sonny-and-Cher-slumming-at-CBGBs style — manage to sound like pretty much no one out there.
When Cox and Viscocchi’s duets take off, their songs do, too. In the past, the two have made a habit of alternating solo leads on each song with the other singing backup, but on songs like the gentle rocker “It Bleeds” and the breezy SoCal-style, organ-driven “Move to California,” the two demonstrate that a give-and-take style works better for them. It’s only when the band attempts to capture their phenomenal live sound in the studio that they stumble, with loud, grungy tracks like “Bamboo” and “Carey Says (Alright!)” sounding, you know, all right, but nothing like they do when they’re on that stage.
- Cole Haddon