Halestorm cheerfully nails down every single girl-fronted rock band cliché in existence on their second album, complete with slapdash slides from vulnerability into overcompensating toughness, but somehow The Strange Case of… still works out okay.
For the uninitiated, Halestorm is from Pennsylvania. Singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale and drummer Arejay Hale are siblings, while lead guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith flesh out the rest of the group. For a time Roger Hale, the father of Lzzy and Arejay, played bass in the band when the kids were just wee ones getting the band together in the late 1990s.
To scan most of the press on Halestorm is to discover that Lzzy is, without question, the face and front of the band. In many circles, the idea of a “chick” fronting a rock band is still kind of a novelty – a sexy novelty. The comment sections of a number of blogs are revelatory in that predictable “the things I would do to Lzzy Hale” sort of way.
Luckily, Lzzy is a powerful presence and not just another pretty face. She seamlessly shifts from hostile, smash-your-face-in scorchers to a convoy of vulnerable ballads and her vocal range is impressive.
The band is tight and precise. There’s not a lot of experimentation or room for licks that don’t fit in their previously arranged spaces, but the Hales, Hottinger and Smith are capable wielders of their respective weapons and their brand of rock is compact and polished.
The album is very precise in terms of what it wants to convey. It moves through a series of harder songs and into a sea of ballads only to pull right back out of the dip into some more upbeat songs to wrap it up (with the exception of “Here’s to Us,” somehow covered on TV’s Glee).
The Strange Case of… opens with a bang on the metal-tinged “Love Bites (So Do I).” Lzzy snarls and gets downright disorderly, declaring her existence and informing us ever-so-kindly that “that bitch can eat her heart out.”
Other tracks send more hard rock messages, like the industrial “Mz. Hyde” and the anthemic “Daughters of Darkness.” The cliché-riddled “Freak Like Me” is a banger that’ll have every good-looking, popular anomaly marching in time over at the mall. Kids still go to the mall, right?
The chunk of ballads in the middle of the album show off another facet, the one that says “Remember all that stuff I told you about stealing your girlfriend and being really awesome? Well, I’m ugly now.” The Avril Lavigne rip-off “Beautiful with You” informs us that Lzzy isn’t all that hot in her “T-shirt and ripped jeans” and the subsequent stack of radio rock strains to send the same message.
Despite mountains of clichés and the valleys of banality, The Strange Case of… is still kind of a fun album. Call it a guilty pleasure or a pitiful attempt to recapture my youth, but Halestorm’s sophomore record isn’t all that bad.