Having a really successful debut album must feel like ten tons of heavy stons falling from the chests of the young artists. Finally something that pays the rent, gives you something to eat and gives you the chance to play in front of more than just a handful people at a local club. What a relief it must have been for Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson and their band HURTS when the 2010 debut Happiness brought them fame and – maybe a tiny bit of – fortune, thanks to their catchy singles Wonderful Life and Stay who were almost unescapable during this summer. Right time, right place for their melancholic and epic pop ballads and their stylish 80s look, although HURTS always sad that they saw themselves more as a 90s influenced band.
So, three years later, after massive touring and with more than one Million sold singles on their account, Hutchcraft und Anderson return with a highly anticipated sophomore album called Exile. And as it is – unfortunately – quite often the case with these second records, the artists pump up their sound, exploit their new musical and financial possibilities and overshoot the mark with it. Exile wants to be the bigger and brighter update of Happiness – more sound, more production, more epic moments, more megalomania. Emotional and musical overload – an intention that was doomed to fail. And it did – Exile is a mediocre, soulless and shallow record from a band that maneuvered itself into a blind alley.
Exile is epicness from the first note to the last. The lads from Manchester no longer sound like a pop duo with a liking of big gestures and big words. The new HURTS longplayer sounds heavier is far from being simple and sounds like a full band record – drums, guitar and various choirs inclusive. From the dark title track as opener to the overloaded first single Miracle. Delusions of grandeur everywhere – big gestures, big emotions and big words (although the lyrics are ofren nothing more than a collection of heard-before phrases aka “The first cut is the deepest”, “The rope is long, there is no turning back”). The whole album trys so desperately to be larger than life with all the big reverbed 80s drums, synthesizer trumpets and heavy walls of sound. This concept is so exhausting over a whole record and the mass of elements will leave you cold and untouched in the end. There is no feeling in this album – just phrases, synthetic emotional constructs and very few good ideas.
There are brighter moments and fresh ideas. The smooth r’n’b beat of Sandman, for example. But or course there needs to be kids choir in here to ruin the atmosphere. The wild and dirty Cupid is probably the heaviest track HURTS ever made and its nice DEPECHE MODE-like blues guitar riff is also quite catchy. Same goes for Only You. And these songs could have been way more effective in terms of an emotional effect if the band could get rid of their uninspired ‘Always a more’-concept. The Crow is such an example that works way better since it is a bit more reduced – well, of course, until the final moments of the song. And then there are songs like Blind with their unspeakable “O-hey-o, o-hey-o”-moments that would be also too lame for COLDPLAY.
All in all, there is a clear lack of good songs on Exile. Way less hit material than on Happiness. Well, maybe it is there. Somewhere. Hidden behind all these dozens of strings, orchestra, big drums, choirs, walls of sound and shallow gestures. We can’t locate them. If was HURTS‘ goal to create a maximum amount of emotion and feeling, they collapsed in the biggest possible way. But, well, something tells us that this might be their most favourited way of doing it.