Release Date: Mar 11, 2013
Record label: Epic
Even before their debut album, Happiness, became one of the fastest-selling albums in the U. K. in 2010, Manchester duo Hurts already had a rabid online fan base, stoked by several arch, expertly art-directed videos that the group self-produced, which captured the eye while showcasing the band's mix of '80s synth pop melodicism, Krautrock angularity, and '90s Hi-NRG balladry.
We’ve had to wait three years (how could they?) for Hurts‘ second delivery. Their first album, 2010?s Happiness, was once of the most intense explosions of emotion in recent years – it was slick, oft-morose, fabulously melodramatic synth-pop, adorned with sharp references to the late ’80s and urban life. Basically, it was a stellar debut. Then, towards the end of 2012, we were able to glimpse snippets from their second effort; ‘Miracle‘ was once such cut.
Choking on your own hubris is the undoing of many a callow rock star, and the backstreets of pop history are littered with second albums from people who booked the dwarves for the aftershow a bit too early. With Hurts it isn’t so simple. Their hubris – swollen by private jets and parties round Transformers director Michael Bay’s place – is their thing.
Hurts built suspense for Exile, their second album, by releasing a two minute teaser video online. The video featured The Road, a song said to be inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel of the same name. It shows Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson as boys, adolescents and adults, as well as several scenes depicting fighting and bondage. And a dead person.
As Adam Ant once said, ridicule is nothing to be scared of – words Hurts should take to heart, as their second album will provoke a fair bit of it. Anyone who doesn't revel in the sound of twentysomethings recreating 1980s pomp-rock should look away now: though the duo now incorporate spasms of grotty, Nine Inch Nailsy guitar (check out The Road and Cupid, in particular), Exile is still defined by its synth-pop froideur. The billowing music is matched by towering emotions: the lyrics to Miracle and several others suggest that vocalist Theo Hutchcraft is feeling thoroughly messed around by an intimate ("Look at all the damage you have done/ In time you can see what a savage I've become").
The term “style over substance” has been used many times before in describing pop acts, but in the case of British synth-pop duo Hurts, it truly applies. Singer Theo Hutchcraft and musician Adam Anderson look like Hedi Slimane’s personal mannequins and bring a refreshing severity to pop’s aesthetic landscape. Although the music on second album Exile is at times more aligned with Hurts’ austere image than 2010’s Happiness, Hurts is still struggling with adding depth to its fairly conventional pop songs.
When Thom Yorke wailed “ambition makes you look pretty ugly” back in 1997 you suspect Adam Anderson and Theo Hutchcraft were not taking notes. Bedecked in razor-sharp suits and sporting cheekbones with angles a mountaineer would struggle to overcome, the core components of Hurts – a Manchester-based synthpop pairing with a predilection for grandiose musical symbolism – place stiff emphasis on delivering the aesthetic of aspiration. Ugly they ain't.
What with the impeccable tailoring, the monochrome styling, and the slo-mo moodiness of their videos, Hurts should sound – or would like you to think they sound – like elegant despair. Alas though, the duo's Ultravox-indebted synthpop continues to sound like melancholy as made by Topman. Unlike their first album, with its sleek and sharp hit, Wonderful Life, there's no killer single here, however hard singer Theo Hutchcraft strains to convince you otherwise.
On their 2010 debut, ‘Happiness’, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson and their bells-and-whistles brand of Depeche Mode-meets-Pet Shop Boys (or, for those feeling slightly less charitable, Bros without the denim) blew attempted to counter what was coined the ‘New Beige’ of mainstream pop. Expressive, vibrant and ridiculously bombastic, it took the duo out of their native Manchester and just on a national level, but far and wide enough to a point where they sold a quarter of a million live tickets in Russia alone. But having presented such a complete and fully formed first offering, you can’t help but wonder where Hurts go next on ‘Exile’.
A second set occupying a murkier world than that of Hurts’ glossy debut. Tom Hocknell 2013 Things looked promising in 2010 for electro-pop fans when Hurts’ early singles, Wonderful Life and Better Than Love, easily matched the quality of their well-cut suits. Singer Theo Hutchcraft and keyboardist Adam Anderson arrived fully formed. But electro understatement was ultimately abandoned for theatrical ornamentations, with overblown ballads taking cues from Ultravox's Vienna rather than Tainted Love.