It took ‘em seven years, but New York City hardcore heralds H2O finally put out a new album, Nothing to Prove. The title is only sort of right, in that the album’s 10 songs are effortlessly catchy. Nothing to Prove may very well be the best H2O record since, well, F.T.T.W.. At the same time, though, the band has plenty to prove. They've been out of the game for a while. The group’s last record, 2001’s GO wasn’t as well-received as older material, and even that album’s defenders (this guy right here) eventually grew out of it. There’s a certain point where “I Want I Want” starts to sound really stupid. It is to that extent that the band has a heck of a lot to prove: Can they still hack it? Will they embarrass themselves?
The answer to the first question is yes, sweet wow can they still hack it. Nothing to Prove is a tight album, just under 25 minutes if you factor out the talking soundbites at the end. New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert produced the record, and while the former and current labelmate’s presence doesn’t come through too heavily, it’s the first indicator that this record means just as much to H2O’s peers as it hopefully will to their fans. Guest vocals abound, with legends like Civ, Roger Miret, and Kevin Seconds showing up over and over to sing. Spoken blurbs from friends and family separate each of the tracks, ranging from anecdotes to straight-edge pledges. Nothing to Lose may be trying to re-assert the group’s ability, but it feels too much like a labor of love to feel labored.
Nothing to Prove’s first two songs, “1995” and the title track, are the strongest cuts. A child’s voice announces the band’s return with “For those that don’t know… H2O go!” and it is awesome. Cute. But mostly awesome. An origin story, “1995” conveys H2O’s wonder over its own creation through the fine art of pounding drums and crunchy guitars. Track two, “Nothing to Prove” is far away the catchiest of the bunch. When vocalist Toby Morse and friends hit the chorus of “Me and all my friends / We’ve got nothing to prove / Nothing to lose,” it’s punk perfection in less than 90 seconds.
While Nothing to Prove is certainly chock full of stompers, the lyrical choices may drive some away. H2O has never been the most eloquent hardcore band, which is made very clear on closing cut “What Happened?”. An indictment of new bands for being too fashion-conscious, the song has a certain “old man hating whippersnappers” vibe. The band’s directness is much better on other songs, though. “Sunday,” a song about growing up without a father and then going through the anxiety of becoming one, goes right for the heart. Plus, it references Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” which is always good.
Another standout is the straight-edge anthem “Still Here.” It’s so good it makes me (almost) regret that first pint of Chocolate Thunder at the General Lafayette Inn on my 21st birthday. The best part may be that the band never gets militant, saying, “To all the new kids / This is a way to live / It’s not a passing trend / A way to fit in / I never preached shit / I just spoke my mind / To live a positive life.” A proud tune that never gets preachy, “Still Here” is one of several quick shots of adrenaline.
Closing out the album is about five minutes' worth of extra conversational snippets, the highlight of which would definitely be bassist Adam Blake’s top five facts you probably didn’t know about H2O. I never would have guessed any of them. This ending, and really the record in general, make Nothing to Prove a celebration of H2O’s life. It starts with the band’s formation in 1995 and traces the band members’ personal and musical paths up through 2008. Hopefully Blake was kidding when he said the band should have another record done seven years from now.