One of the easiest ways to gauge a band's actual popularity -- whether hype-generated or truly deserved -- is to hop on your friendly peer-to-peer filesharing network, type in their name and see how many songs come up, and how quickly. Sahara Hotnights are one of the few "high-profile" (relatively speaking) bands I've reviewed, so just for kicks I checked it out. While SH's fan base is not so numerous or obsessive that their entire catalog (B-sides, live versions and all) is available to anyone with a fast Internet connection, well... let's just say that it would not be strictly necessary to drop cash on their albums.
In view of this success (doubtless hoping most will actually buy the CD), Jetset has reissued SH's 1999 debut. The band has been lumped in with the "garage rock revival" thing; however, certain elements on C'mon Let's Pretend sound more legwarmers than leather. Maria Andersson's raggedly slicing vocals occasionally raise the spectre of Pat Benatar, the production is somewhat sterile and high-end-y -- and if I didn't know better, I'd say "Wake Up", with its top-heavy three-part-harmony choruses, was a power ballad.
But those crunchy riffs and shimmery leads sure are redeeming. The tremolo-crazed distortion of "Drive Dead Slow"'s intro sets the proper dramatic tone for the song, while the dulcet lead in "That's What They Do" does just the opposite, settling you down for a pensive listen. "Impressed by Me" is Sahara Hotnights' calling card, showing off their talent for rocking out the minor-key melodies with earnest harmonies, a solid rhythm section and multifaceted walls of guitar. Ironically, though, the minimal drum-machine beat and organ of "I Know Exactly What to Do" form the basis for one of the album's more emotionally intense songs.
Sahara Hotnights have evolved somewhat between this release and their current one. While their structures and melodies haven't changed much, their core sound has turned more garagey, justifying their reputation. Andersson's voice has also ripened, and her former choppy English pronunciation has virtually disappeared. People who listened to Sahara Hotnights' albums in their proper sequence will appreciate their improvement, but those who heard Jennie Bomb first may well end up preferring it.