Those who blinked in early 2003 missed the rapid ascent of the Exploding Hearts, a Portland, Oregon punk quartet that earned heaps of well-deserved accolades in merely a few months for crafting a sound cribbed from dozens of rock ‘n’ roll’s two-minute masterpieces. Each song on the band’s one and only album sounds immediately familiar, yet these echoes of Motown, Cheap Trick, British punk, bubblegum pop and early Who exude so much charm and infectiousness that it’s hard to criticize the Hearts for being such adroit copycats. Sadly, the group — which was about to sign with Lookout! Records — ended when its van flipped over near Eugene, Ore., on July 20, 2003 en route home from a San Francisco gig, killing guitarist/lead singer Adam “Baby” Cox, bassist Matthew “Matt Lock” Fitzgerald and drummer Jeremy “Kid Killer” Gage.
The Hearts formed in 2001 as a quintet, including keyboardist “King” Louie Bankston (Royal Pendletons, Persuaders), bassist Jim Evans and guitarist Terry Six, the only member who survived the accident. Bankston left and Fitzgerald replaced Evans before the Hearts released Guitar Romantic, ten loud pop blasts about love and rejection (seven of them co-written by Bankston) that might have sounded just as good recorded by the Shirelles, the Raspberries or Generation X. The nearly flawless album is hampered only by inconsistent, unfittingly lo-fi production. These tunes beg for a thin veneer of sheen over lyrics that feature glue-sniffing girlfriends (“Jailbird”) and love gone wrong (“And you say you know what’s best for me / Well if you got your way, I’d have a lobotomy,” from “Sleeping Aides & Razorblades”) in a style strongly reminiscent of the Ramones.