Hurts - Happiness

by Rich Morris Rating:2 Release Date:2010-09-06

At the start of this year, the bland mid-80s revivalist mulch peddled by Mancunian pretty boy duo Hurts (signature look: Spandau Ballet playing the Kray Twins, playing at being Spandau Ballet) got tipped all over the place as the next big thing. Funny how things work out. The glossy, over produced pop of Hall & Oates, Go West etc has in fact proved one of the defining musical trends of this year, but it's been elegantly, mischievously twisted by the psychedelic likes of Gayngs and Toro Y Moi. In their hands, sounds that seemed hopelessly limp and uncool become vivid, witty sonic playgrounds.

But now we must deal with Hurts and the dog's dinner they have served us. The reason why almost none of their debut album, Happiness, works is because they play it completely straight while dealing in an inherently insincere genre. Every single song on this album aches and strains with faked over-sincerity. Opening track 'Silver Lining' provides the album's only really challenging moment, beginning with a queasily oscillating bassline before mutating into the kind of moody, minor goth ballad which would have done mid-80s Depeche Mode proud. However, where laughing Dave Gahan and chums would have used this as the backdrop for a story of kinky sexual obsession and power games, singer Theo Hutchcraft delivers a series of tedious metaphors about thunder storms, rain and (you guessed it) looking for that silver lining.

It's a dreadfully flat, overly drawn-out start to the album and things don't improve much from there. Singles 'Wonderful Life' and 'Better than Love' at least have some drama and fire about them, getting their mid-80s, tears-reflected-in-a-shiny-surface feel absolutely spot on. If Happiness were a more interesting, varied album, these tracks would be still count as highlights. Unfortunately, they appear on an album stuffed full of gloopy, over-worked, dreary songs which never get close to scaling the same peaks.

There are two problems which dog Hurts. The first is that they actually seem embarrassed to admit the musical heritage they are pillaging. Their claim that their sound is based on a little known early-90s Italian music genre called disco lento has been pretty much conclusively proved to be hot air. It's a little known genre precisely because Hurts (or their label or whoever) invented it. However, you can't really knock a pop band for showing some imagination, and if Hurts' music was any cop, Soundblab wouldn't be knocking them this hard. Hurts' second, and most fatal, problem is that they don't even manage to sound like the 80s pop acts they are so obviously referencing. Instead, the likes of 'Blood, Tears & Gold, 'Stay'' and 'Sunday' sound like the kind of drippy ballads Westlife would release, complete with bile-inducing, heart-achy boy band vocals.

And it just doesn't let up. This is an album almost completely composed of ballads, and every ballad draws on exactly the same sound palette, unfolds at the same excruciatingly slow pace and features Hutchcraft warbling in the same loathsome, transatlantic, X-Factor voice. It's really difficult to know who this kind of music is aimed at, except possibly middle-aged, overly maudlin gay men. There's clearly been a drastic miscalculation on the part of Hurts and everyone involved in this album if they think the soppy, droopy likes of 'Illuminated', or the overblown, sickly melodrama of 'Evelyn' and 'Devotion' are actually any good. Let Soundblab just state, emphatically, so we are all clear here - they are not good. They are unironic, unmitigated examples of the very worst, most lifeless, uninspired type of music it is possible to make. They are power ballads. And not Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away', gloriously overblown, guilty pleasure style power ballads. They are Michael Bolton style power ballads. They are shit.

It seems there's nothing we can do but really, passionately hope Happiness bombs completely and utterly. Not just for our own sakes (you do not want to hear the grasping, sub-Take That likes of 'Unspoken' coming out of your local Starbucks) but for the sake of music itself, which in 2010 actually stands in rude, inventive, imaginative health. Pray it stays that way.

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