Originally formed as The Flirt in 1979 but quickly renaming themselves True Hearts, this Texan band released a largely overlooked EP on Counterfeit Records in 1980. Eleven songs were recorded with the intent of releasing a full-length LP, but that never actually came to fruition. Over the next couple of years, True Hearts suffered personnel instability and subsequently disbanded in 1982, leaving most of their recordings unheard.
Over thirty years on from the recording of that shelved LP, the eleven songs recorded by True Hearts’ original line-up were compiled for a belated CD release. The result is a disc which shows a band who, with a better start and a little sharpening up, could have been peers with Pezband, Off Broadway and 20/20.
With a winning combination of an accessible melody and simple chorus hook, ‘Not Tonight’ captures the band’s sound well from a musical perspective. Throughout this opening number, guitarist Manuel Martinez puts in maximum effort and subsequently steals the show with his mix of new-wavish rhythm work and ringing lead parts (the first of which dominates the intro). Similarly, there’s some great stuff occurring behind the drum kit, as Rick Holeman throws in a few interesting fills and some unexpected bell sounds. In theory, these great elements should have made a killer track. On the rather more unfortunate side of things, lead vocalist Terry Carolan has a voice that isn’t always the easiest to like. His poppy croon wavers a little off key, something not helped by backing vocals which seem equally slapdash. Much better, ‘I Need You All The Time’ is a harmony driven pop-rocker which is good as any the early eighties offered; with the addition of a few keyboards, True Hearts sound more assured, while chorus-wise this tune really hits the spot. In terms of influence, a little Raspberries, a little Cheap Trick and a whole lotta Pezband makes a winning formula. The piano driven ‘If I’m Late’ shows a quirkier side to the band with stabbing rhythms, a wandering bass part and some pompy vocals providing plenty of bounce. Given the lack of guitars on this number, you’d think that Carolan would falter vocally, but he sounds very natural – complimenting the music well, even – leaving you to wonder what had gone so wrong on ‘Not Tonight’…
‘Girl In a Men’s Magazine’, on the other hand, is bad both musically and lyrically. Its stark musical arrangement presents a piano waltz underpinned by synth sounds. Lacking in any bass, drums or guitars, this leaves everything sounding really twee. While Carolan’s vocal holds its own, his lyrics concerning a pin up (and the teenage wanting thereof) are just cringe inducing. A fuller musical arrangement may have helped disguise the bad subject matter, but it still would have been pretty bad. Luckily, since this track is barely a minute and a half in duration, by the time you’ve realised how awful it is, it’s very nearly over. What follows is one of the album’s best. ‘Trust Me Candy’ cashes in on a great harmony filled chorus, chiming chords worthy of The Knack and a relatively decent guitar solo. There are a few rough edges here (a couple of dodgy notes in the solo and a slightly flat sounding drum), but that’s all part of its overall charm. Connoisseurs of power pop from between 1977-1980 are sure to find an instant familiarity, but then, that’s no bad thing.
Rather more upbeat than most of True Hearts’ songs, ‘Sleep Tight’ melds classic power pop with a slightly trashier rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, allowing guitarist Martinez to cut loose on a couple of raggedy solos while Carolan pushes his voice to the limit. Had the band given this to Cheap Trick instead, it wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on their earlier records. A double whammy of enjoyment, ‘Hold Me Close/Don’t Stop’ at first mixes reasonable harmonies with a few power chords, resulting in a solid outing on which Carolan sounds better than usual. As good as this is, it’s the track’s second part (‘Don’t Stop’) that’s the clincher. Holeman attacks his hi-hat and snare with the kind of vigour not always evident on the rest of the disc, while the rest of the chaps also appear a little more aggressive. Overall, there are no huge surprises, but here – as with ‘Sleep Tight’ – you’ll get a brief glimpse into how great True Hearts could be if/when they really tried.
Despite a few iffy vocals – and the fact that these recordings have moments where all four band members seem almost incapable of achieving musical greatness at the same time – there was obviously a reasonable amount of talent within True Hearts. Based on these songs, they aren’t quite as enjoyable as some of the similar bands from the period (especially Pezband or Tommy Tutone), but given a better chance, who knows what they would have achieved? What we are left with is a curio that captures an emerging talent which, for fans of late seventies power pop, is a fascinating look at what might have been.