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REVIEW: "Hotel Bleu" by Broadside

Photo credit: Broadside

Broadside's evolution has been something great to witness. From pop punk beginnings to pop rock to mellow rock to alternative pop rock, each album has a different sound and it's fresh each time. This is true on “Hotel Bleu” too.

Sonically, the album is one that is perfect for driving with the windows down and jamming. The lyrics, for the most part, tell a different story as their lyrics tend to do. See "A Better Way" from 2015's "Old Bones", "Who Cares" from 2017's "Paradise" and "Bang" from 2023's "Hotel Bleu". The only exceptions are "Feel Love", "What Have I Done", and closer "Bleu".

While the sound seems to change each album, there has been one thing that's been consistent: the excellent lyric writing. "Hotel Bleu" is no different. I’ve highlighted some standout songs below.

"Hotel Bleu" starts off with the sunny sounding "Stranger". This song is about not feeling good enough because of mental illness and is one of a few songs that sounds happy but is about something decidedly darker.

The chorus crashes in with vocals from Ollie Baxxter, Broadside's lead singer: I feel like a stranger living someone else's life/if I’m just a stranger/will that keep you satisfied/guess I’ll play the stranger.

Feeling like you can't be open with those around you can be very isolating. Then, though, there's that magical moment where you're like 'no, I'm not letting my depression control me anymore' and you fight with your mental illness. It's not an easy thing, however.

Baxxter gets into that in the next few lines:

I've been thinking that maybe the sun doesn't come into the places that I tend to roam/I've been dreaming of getting away from the darkness inside of this hotel room/could stay but I don't need this/I feel vacant and alone/know I should face my fears and demons/but then who would haunt this home?

The drums keep your pulse pounding to the final impassioned "stranger!" that ends the song.

"Dazed and Confused", track two, is a song about liking someone who's bad for you and you know it. There's something about them that draws you to them and before you know it, you’re in too deep. Baxxter mentions she’s his “favorite kind of red flag” and how he “wouldn’t mind if she ruined [his] life”. He continues: “she’s got me dazed and confused/but that’s what I like.” There's also a great upbeat guitar from guitarist Domenic Reid. The backing vocals are like a cherry on top. There’s what sounds like a keytar solo toward the end and that's not something that's heard every day.

"Cruel", track four, starts off with Baxxter crooning the words "cruel" five times and some programming before getting into the guitar and bass from Reid and Pat Diaz, respectively. It touches on first, how hard it can be to succeed in the world and how it can be cruel, and secondly, how to rebuild yourself when you're in a low place and, thirdly, how people can help build you back up.

Talking about how cruel the world can be, Baxxter sings in the chorus: this world is cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel when you've got something to lose/when you've got something to prove.

Sometimes it feels like everything is going wrong, no matter what you do, and this illustrates that. He does talk about how important it is to rebuild though: this head of mine feeling broken and shattered/but how you rebuild is all that matters.

The darkness that is depression or anything like that is like quicksand, it wants to completely envelop you and drag you down so you can’t see the sunlight again. It takes a lot of strength to climb out of that.

Finally, he also talks about how important it is to have people in your corner when you're in that state: Teach me how love/teach me how to love myself/teach me how not to destroy myself.

It also has a feature from Brian Butcher, of Seattle heavy pop band The Home Team. It’s seamless and his voice blends with Baxxter’s perfectly. It's a song you'll have on repeat like I did when it first came out in March.

The dreamy intro to "Bang", track five, is in direct opposition to its lyrics. It's easily the darkest song on the album as it's about how it gets exhausting fighting against your mental illness. Surprisingly, this was one of the four singles released.

The chorus hits you like an avalanche. It goes: Bang, bang, bang/the reaper's at my door/and I don't want to run anymore.

He's so tired of fighting with his mental illness that he doesn't want to run anymore. It takes some truly deep despair to get to that point. The drums speed up as the chorus starts to give the listener the sense of urgency needed by the lyrics. It also features Josh Roberts of Orlando pop punk/alternative rock band Magnolia Park. His feature is an added bonus to the song. He takes the second verse and keeps the energy going.

Despite the dark nature of the song, this is another song that you’ll find yourself coming back to. The chorus will definitely make its way into your head.

Confession time: I usually hate love songs. Well, love songs and most acoustic songs, but “Feel Love”, track eight, had me nodding my head along to it. It has a beat you can dance to, though it does have mentions of drinking and of self-deprecation. This is all before he meets the person in question though. The whole song is about the person making him feel love. This song is the second of three songs to talk about a steadying presence in Baxxter's life. He says: You make me feel love/when I’m close to giving in/you pull me back again and you need an angel/I’m not an angel/you need an angel/I think you’re my angel. The synth heavy track really lifts the mood of the album.

"One Last Time", track nine, was one of the first teaser singles released. It's about wanting one more time to pursue something that has gone by the wayside, like a recently ended relationship. The song starts with an acoustic guitar and earnest vocals: Can we get one more night/can we get one last time to feel it/like we felt before/back when we wanted/back/back when we wanted it…

It bursts into energetic drums and gets me passionately mouthing the words and pumping my fist in the air every time I listen to it.

That's only the intro though. Baxxter’s not in a good place, as he mentions: It’s agony, living with your memory/I wish I could press rewind/maybe I'd feel alive.

The song continues like that even going so far as to say: I miss paradise, heaven's too small in my mind...It’s insanity, I just need your ecstasy.

The guitar from Reid underscores the song perfectly and the energy this song brings makes it deserve a high place on your list of favorites.

“What Have I Done”, track 10, has a moody intro and is the last song about a steadying presence in Baxxter’s life. In some gorgeous high vocals, he asks “what have I done to deserve your love at all?” The moody music continues and goes into the struggle of selling his heartbreak vs. getting better: I know I said that I’d get better/you know I love to sell my broken heart/but still our dreams are often tethered standing on another stage. It’s scary to want to get better as it’s the unknown and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Will I be the same? Will my personality change? Will my desire to create change? Getting better’s always the best option, by the way, even if it’s a hard road. There’s also some well-done bass from Diaz toward the end.

The band, especially Baxxter, shines the most on emotional closing track "Bleu". It's the type of track you lay down on your bed or couch, sit in the dark and feel all your feels. It starts with a heartstring pulling acoustic guitar and prepares you for the amount of anguish Baxxter's voice brings to the opening: On the edge of tomorrow/I’m thinking about the years we borrowed/another close call/now I can’t fall asleep alone/check my phone/but it’s 3 o’ clock in the morning/I know you’re probably fine/I’m still terrified.

In 2021, Baxxter found out his partner, Sara Hayden, had breast cancer (she is now cancer free!) and this song details the strife that goes along with that: Final words can’t prepare you for that kind of hurt/If our time runs out I’m not sure I can try to weather the storm… but forever without you is a different shade of blue…

You can tell that this song means a lot to the band as Baxxter’s voice has never been more emotional and the music twists your heart, especially toward the end when the drums join in.

It’s a song that immediately commands your attention and holds it for three minutes and 23 seconds.

Both the lyrics and music make this a must listen album. It’ll remind you of summers past, hit you right in the heart and make you think. “Hotel Bleu” comes out November 10, 2023, on SharpTone Records. It can be pre-ordered or pre-saved here.


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