Release Date: Oct 9, 2015
Record label: Columbia
If Hurts' previous release, 2013's Exile, expanded on the grayscale minimalism of their 2010 debut with a symphonic grandiosity that imbued their sound with tasteful hints of color, then their 2015 release Surrender marks their entree into luminous, full-scale chromatism. Centered on the talents of vocalist Theo Hutchcraft and instrumentalist Adam Anderson, Hurts have built a rabidly loyal following with their distinctive, highly stylized sound. Joining Hurts here is Exile's Jonas Quant, along with Grammy-winning producers Stuart Price (Madonna, the Killers) and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend).
Hurts have a reputation as dapper, suited-and-booted peddlers of moody power-pop that cries tears of pure melodrama; like if The Smiths’ ten-tonne truck went steam-rolling straight into Ultravox. While previous outings ‘Happiness’ and ‘Exile’ chased a very specific, tear-hued 80s aesthetic - sometimes a little too deliberately - ‘Surrender’ gives itself up to something different. It’s a record that feels free.
Hurts recently told NME that new album ‘Surrender’ is less “intense” than 2013’s ‘Exile’. Then they clarified: “But that’s not to say it’s all a barrel of laughs – we’re still drawn to the darker side”. Manchester duo Theo Hutchcraft and synth man Adam Anderson – whose sombre synthpop has sold like sauerkraut in mainland Europe – weren’t simply trying to appease the faithful.
A quick glance at Richard Mosse’s striking infrared cover art, and it’s clear that Surrender will be anything but a typical Hurts outing. Given that the English synthpop duo’s previous efforts weren’t exactly defined by their sunlit optimism, the ebullient imagery here might be a bit disconcerting to some. Clad in black couture suits and wandering through a rose-colored field, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson look like fashionable undertakers or stylish hitmen who have somehow stepped out of a black and white film noir and into a technicolor-dipped daydream.
When Hurts emerged at the start of the decade, they looked the full package. In the best synth-pop tradition (Pet Shop Boys, Yazoo, Erasure), they were duo comprising a vocalist (Theo Hutchcraft) and a synthesist (Adam Anderson); they had a strong, defining look (accountants at Berghain, basically), an austerely excellent name and, crucially, a clutch of sturdy pop hits in the form of Wonderful Life, Stay and Sunday. The album, Happiness, duly went top five.
They could’ve been contenders. They should’ve been contenders. When Manchester duo Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson landed on Planet Pop with 2010’s Happiness the world was theirs for the taking. They meant business. This was deluxe pop music for the masses; a 21st century A-ha for the ….
When Hurts first emerged, there was a degree of intrigue surrounding them. Here were two guys operating within a chart-pop framework, producing ludicrously overwrought ballads that could have worked as X Factor montages; but they were also stylish individuals who knew the power of a moody, monochrome photoshoot and a pretentious quote. But even if pop subversion was indeed Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson’s plan all along, it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days.
Is there a more ridiculous band on the pop landscape today than Manchester’s Hurts? The massive-in-Europe-you-know electro duo have made a career out of a very basic formula: drama+four-to-the-floor beat that stops and drops into big choruses+hair gel+smart suits and single earrings= selling bucket loads in Italy and a cult following. On Surrender, their third album, the pair show no signs of fucking with that formula. They aim at big pop drama, at hooks and drops, at fist-in-the-air moments, and head-in-your-hands ballads.
In the end, it was probably inevitable that Hurts would end up going all-out pop. They’d never quite gone down that route in wholesale fashion before; however proudly they might have worn their influences on their sleeves on their first two records, there was always a sufficient diversity about the artists they were taking their cues from to ensure that they never quite went for a sound that was entirely commercial, whether it was the pristine polish they applied to Depeche Mode on Happiness, or the subtle interpolation of new wave, krautrock and even Nine Inch Nails on 2013’s Exile. It’s not that there weren’t chart leanings on those first two records - the likes of “Wonderful Life” and “Better Than Love” were neatly packaged for the radio - but for the most part, the Manchester duo were striving, with varying degrees of success, to carve something new out of a well-worn set of influences.