Review: Hot Chelle Rae Will Leave Grown-Ups Lukewarm With ‘Whatever’

The teen-targeted quartet has captivated the Radio Disney demographic, but more mature listeners will take the impassive album title to heart

If you were watching the American Music Awards and went “huh?” when Hot Chelle Rae got the award for New Artist of the Year, rest easy, because you probably won’t have to bone up on the band too much to stay current on the next set of Grammy winners.

The teen-targeted group proved it’s possible to win an AMA on the basis of one flop album, one double-platinum single, and four sets of cute hair, which should come as encouragement to aspiring one-hit wonders everywhere.

Hot Chelle Rae’s sophomore album, the not-encouragingly-titled “Whatever,” hits stores this week, and it’s bound to do far better than their 20,000-selling blip of a debut.

That’s thanks to “Tonight Tonight,” a radio hit that racked up 2 million paid downloads since being released last spring.

If you recognize the single's “dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign” refrain, chances are good you have a child in the Radio Disney demographic … though the band members themselves are mostly in their mid-twenties and bordering on long-in-the-tooth for this brand of fluff.

Like most of Hot Chelle Rae’s songs would, “Tonight Tonight” required a slight lyrical edit to make it onto that tween radio network. Fortunately for 9-to-14-year-olds itching for forbidden fruit, a purchase of the new CD will allow them to hear the line “I woke up with a strange tattoo” in all its verboten glory.

The 11 songs on the sing-along-filled “Whatever” are every bit as innocuous as they mean to be, notwithstanding throwaway lines about getting drunk or getting in bed with girls. In the context of the obvious target audience, these slightly naughty asides come off as aspirational: This is music for girls still looking forward to their first beer blasts.

Stylistically, think of the Nashville-based quartet as pop-punk stripped of the punk.

Sleekly dull production renders it nearly impossible to distinguish between guitars and electronics at any given moment. In lieu of any interesting arrangements or instrumental breathing room, what's omnipresent are Ryan Foliese’s vocals, typically pitched at the very top of his range, arguably just beyond his comfort zone.

If any of these songs are heartfelt and not just confectionary, a sense of feeling didn't survive the gloss and sameiness. That’s OK for decent dance-oriented tracks like “Downtown Girl” and “Beautiful Freak,” but not so much for balladic stinkers like “The Only One” and “Why Don’t You Love Me,” the last of which wastes duet partner Demi Lovato.

Lovato’s presence serves to remind you how superior her recent album was — which could also be said of other Radio Disney-friendly artists like Allstar Weekend, near-soundalikes for Hot Chelle Rae who offered far more wit and variety on their recent sophomore CD.

As kidstuff, Hot Chelle Rae is harmless, but “Whatever” will have even parents who normally warm up to the best teen- and tween-oriented pop taking the impassive title completely to heart.