Sunday, September 12, 2010

songs of faith and devotion

With a velvety glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo as accompaniment, I am weaving words about a beautiful rarity in the world of music. *sip*

Finally, the long awaited and much anticipated debut longplayer from Hurts has crash landed. "Happiness" stands out among the current crop of 2010 hopefuls for being the most melodic and sophisticated effort of the bunch. There's more meat on these bones.

The entire album, which debuted in the UK at #4 this week, is seamlessly held together by solid songwriting, epic and tasteful arrangements, lyric depth and Theo Hurts' ( Hutchcraft) solid vocal. Theo's performances are stridently confident yet they maintain a slight vulnerability which gives a more personal feel to the vocal delivery and sells the lyrical sentiments without ever coming off sounding cheap or cheesy.

Although it incorporates many sounds associated with the 80s, the album manages to be far more than a pastiche of synth tricks and production padding.

"Silver Lining" clearly takes its cues from Depeche Mode, a group which Adam Hurts ( Anderson) has cited as a major influence. Starting with classic throbbing synths and clanky chimes, reminiscent of "Black Celebration" era DM, the song builds into a epic chorus. Toward the end of the song, "silver" is chanted by a chorus of manly men against a backdrop of elegiac chords and faux mandolins until the entire arrangement creeps away into a chugging drum loop and ominous chord passages which reminds me of DM's "Stripped".

On a lighter note, second single, "Wonderful Life", which only managed to scrape to #21 in the UK singles chart, is a towering tune which still comes across like a slightly moody Johnny Hates Jazz. And that's not a bad thing at all. This song has a sonic sheen to it that the original mix didn't have. An absolute classic. Just give it some time.

However, to these ears, there is a funky edit around the 3.13 mark. Not sure if it's an artifact of the reverb or a mistake. Whatever the case, it is not in the original version that appeared toward the back end of 2009.

Lyrically, it's appears to be a song of hope to those in despair. The sound of it is equal party glorious beauty and mournful anxiety. Perfect pop! To further hit that point home, here's Hurts performing live in a basement somewhere in London.

The drummer is a monster! Nicely done, rhythm master. After watching that clip, it occurred to me for the first time that there's even a bit of Mk II era Ultravox floating around in Hurts' electro elegance.

Theo and Andy channel a number of fine purveyors of electronic pop throughout the course of the 12 tracks that make up "Happiness". Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark is a on "Blood, Tears And Gold", complete with angelic vocal samples and delicate synth lines while Pet Shop Boys are the clear influence on "Sunday". However, if you close your eyes, you could be forgiven by thinking you were listening to Killers.

Word just came down that "Stay" will be the third single to be plucked from "Happiness". What starts out a bit like Breathe - don't pretend you don't have "All That Jazz" somewhere in your CD collection - quickly turns into another gospel tinged epic with Depeche Mode-esque rhythmic, heartbeat leanings. It sounds massive with its booming, ominous, left hand piano and Theo's elegiac vocal. Very singleworthy, indeed.

The eerie intro to "Illuminated" hints at more DM sonic references and you begin to realize Hurts is more Basildon boys than that of the Pet Shop variety. Everything leading up to this point, including the "Actually" referencing cover art seemed to indicate a PSB connection. Oh, how wrong we were. And that's completely OK as Hurts deliver one of the most polished and emotive debut albums in quite some time.

"Evelyn" is a beautifully somber song which dates back to Theo's days in UK pop combo, Daggers, from the previous decade. It builds from a reflective ode with goth undertones into a full on widescreen number with tribal drums, cathedral vocals and primal yelps which, surprisingly, don't overpower Theo's earnest performance.

This leads nicely into debut single, "Better Than Love", an throbbing electronic dance track that sounds like The Mission meets Pet Shop Boys. The tag line following the chorus gives the listener another flash of OMD.

While I'm referencing several bands, at no time does Hurts come across as if they are aping someone else's sound from yesteryear. They pay homage to their influences in a clever way. Smatterings and subtle sonic construction as opposed to being a pastiche.

Theo looking very much like Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet at the start of that video.

The remainder of "Happiness" is more subdued - achingly beautiful with wonderfully longing vocals and choruses as big as houses. First up is "Devotion" which features vocal contributions from everyone's favorite Aussie pop rocket, Kylie Minogue. It places her more firmly in the territory she first laid claim to with her Nick Cave duet, "Where The Wild Roses Grow", as opposed the frothy dance confections with which she's currently associated. Smart move. She sounds simultaneously fragile and sexy. In fact, it even has shades of "Confide In Me" which Hurts recently covered.

"Unspoken" is another gorgeous, cinematic number which falls and climbs throughout. "The Water" drifts into George Michael territory. Swimming in reverb and very little electronics, it shows off another slice of Hurts' epic manifesto. It's one of many high water marks on an accomplished debut.

But wait... There's more. "Verona" is a "hidden" track which wouldn't feel out of place on a Marc Almond album. This short, anthemic song builds from a bare arrangement into a powerhouse of martial drums, mandolins and an operatic chorus of voices. A bit OTT, but its brevity holds it back from being ridiculous. Very lovely.

Interesting to note that the title track was given away through Amazon and really showcases the . It's a booming stomper with a killer chorus which rises and falls before launching into a goosestepping tag with a stern, staccato chant of "We don't need your cheap salvation. We don't need your sympathy." Powerful stuff. Make it your mission to seek it out.

All in all, "Happiness" is quite an achievement. A debut of skyscraper proportions with a beautifully executed - and painfully long - marketing campaign. What started out as enigmatic and curious has evolved into a stylish and solidly strong clutch of songs which should find a good home in many homes. One of the best elpees of 2010.


  1. A review as wonderfully constructed and detailed as the album is. I loved reading this. So happy with the next single, though I'd love Blood Tears and Gold to get it's day in the sun at some point. Oh and your post title made me want a nice Depeche Mode special edition of that album, though one has probably been done?!

  2. Great review. Hurts already have their haters out there which is actually a good sign. A sign that they're having an effect on an otherwise samey UK chart. In a world where hit singles are produced in ProTools rather than written, it's refreshing to hear music written as a song first and THEN produced.

  3. @Paul - Thanks! That's a wonderful compliment. Much appreciated. It's an album of many layers and it took me a while to peel them all back. Lyrically, I haven't even scratched the surface.

    As for DM, I think all of their albums have gotten the deluxe treatment, if my memory serves me correctly. I remember this because I wasn't thrilled with their choice of configuration for the bonus tracks. They put them on DVD.

  4. I'm still at a loss for words...thanks for providing them Vin lol

    Personally, my LP of the year so far and I have every 7" and 12" up on my mantle. The 12" is an absolutely gorgeous picture disc so I'm going to have to buy another one since a couple dozen spins will start destroying it. It's too good not to play out ya know :0(

    My qualms however have been the remixers that have been commissioned. Other than Arthur Baker (which I don't even think was "official"), they all have been tremendously flat and uninspiring. I have no idea how one can loose the epic nature of the originals through the remixes. Songwriting can earn you descent radio play and chart success, but Hurts will fair best on the dance floor (i.e. all the comparisons we've made from DP and PSB to OMD and Marc Almond). If they stand a chance at breaking the US market nowadays, that is a MUST (unfortunately).

    Make sense?

  5. Thank you for saying everything i cannot put in words. They are so authentic and you can see that it all based on their own talent and work. The album is great, they are great on stage, live on TV or Radio station and even in the elevator - only vocals and guitar. They know what they´re doing and they do it good - i hope for a long time. So glad that they got their chance. They make the music that makes such a lot diffrent kind of people very happy.

  6. @The Music Gourmandizer - It's far and away my favorite album of the year. Although, the new OMD elpee is neck and neck with it.

    I agree with you to a point on the remixes. The Freemasons give it a slightly disco vibe with a bit of New Order thrown in for good measure. It really goes down a storm with the 40+ crowd and those that remember the old Shelter days. You, my friend, are a touch too young. :) The dancefloor is the ultimate test, and the Freemasons mix packs them in.

    The Arthur Baker mixes, to the best of knowledge, are official. I have them on a Sony promo. Plus, they were released on a commercial 10" picture disc.

  7. Well now the Arthur Baker remixes are official but I don't think they started out that way.

    It seems everything Hurts releases is either controlled or ran through a real ambiguous, smoke-and-mirror "indie" called Major Label (probably their own to control their assets/intellectual property). It seems they signed an exclusive license with Sony. Who even knows who'll pick up distribution in North America- my guess is Jive.

    The Arthur Baker remix has been floating around for a while and even showed up on a few comps already. It was initially a white label. I believe they became property of Sony via the exclusive license. The version I own is the 12" picture disc with the remix and Baker's instrumental:

    Neither the actual product or the property is copyrighted by Sony. It seems that there's a strong Swedish contingency circulating around Hurts. That and former members of Carl Cox's clique. Ah...don't you love vinyl? I love reading me some linear notes then being able to cross-reference using Discogs lol Everything seems real cloudy, but regardless...THE LP IS AWESOME!!!!!

  8. @The Music Gourmandizer - I don't think there is a Swedish connection. To the best of my knowledge, Major Label is owned in part by Biffco, which is run by Richard "Biff" Stannard who was responsible for many of the Spice Girls' hits in the 90s. That was his cash cow. No pun intended.

    Mr. Stannard knows a thing about intellectual property. However, it's still not clear if Hurts own Major Label with Biff or if it's wholly owned by the band. Perhaps, Biff owns it outright. The mystery deepens (a bit).

  9. Yea, tell me about it lol

    Go to:

    And start clicking on some of those'll definitely raise one's eyebrows.

    Quite the conundrum Mr. Vero! It seems to me Hurts were a super calculated always is, but even more so. Especially if you dig in Adam & Theo's past! Some interesting linear notes and pseudonyms line the path. Additionally, heir previous work under "Daggers" was very similar if not identical to the Spice Girls sound.