Album Review: The Hosts – Softly, Softly

By on Monday, 10th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The Hosts Softly Softly coverThese days, we know that production and in-studio wizardry can hide a multitude of musical sins, from people who cannot sing (hello, Britney Spears, Kanye West and autotune) to people who cannot play instruments or bands who simply do not have enough people to play them (hello, drum machines and synthesisers). I was reminded of this when ‘Please Please Me’ appeared on Radcliffe and Maconie’s Tea Time Theme Time segment last month: before they became heavy drug using, psychedelic pioneers, people seem to forget that the Beatles didn’t need any help in the studio. In their earliest days working with George Martin, they relied good songwriting, their voices in perfect harmony and the tightness of their combined instrumentation to come up with excellent records. There was nowhere to hide, but nothing needed to be hidden. They were just that damn good.

Despite the manufactured pop star ‘development’ paths currently favoured by the major labels, there is a growing number of English bands that are working hard to go back to those golden years when singing and playing proficiently with limited use of technological assistance were the norm and bands took great pride in this. And I can’t really explain it why in the last couple of years, the phenomenon seems to have been most noticeable in the North, particularly in Sheffield. ‘Softly, Softly’ by Sheffield band The Hosts is the latest in a string of releases from this part of England that brings forth the innocence of the Fab Four’s earliest successes, taking that feeling and spilling it all over the unsuspecting current record-buying public, who include in their ranks the supposed indie kids who are in love with Bastille and The 1975. As I listened to ‘Softly, Softly’, it was the reaction of these people I wondered about the most. Would Tom Hogg’s voice slay them?

Because slaying is a good word to this case. When on tour with Roy Orbison (who, incidentally, inspired ‘Please Please Me’), the young Fabs were famously known to have hung out backstage watching the master at work, slaying the audience night after night. Having been described as “the missing link between Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley“, it should come as no surprise that frontman Tom Hogg’s voice has this slaying ability as well. Hogg’s voice has a distinctive timbre that can best be described as honey for the ears, and the main vocals are further supported in this aural beautification by the band’s ever harmonious backing vocals. I give to you exhibit A, my personal favourite ‘Would You Be Blue’, the opening track of the album, with verses such as, “set adrift on the star-filled skies / broken and bruised, with no reasons why / just the the waves that crash in the sea / are the waves that you should carry me free”. Accompanied with a building wall of sound that includes schmaltzy / waltzy instrumentation, it is perfection in less than 4 minutes.

In the chorus of ‘Would You Be Blue’, we are asked, “When I said I’ll be true / when I said ‘only you’ / why on earth would you be blue?” I really don’t know, Tom. I can’t answer that. I think I just expired on the floor from the loveliness of feeling like I was the apple – the sole apple – of someone’s eye. (If there was any doubt, yes, I am a hopeless romantic.) And the rest of the album serves as the blankets to envelope my emotion-aching soul. A gentle, rocking chair-type beat is underneath most of the songs on this album, serving to soothe any savage beast from within, even if said savage beast’s heart is breaking while this is happening (‘Where the Cold Wind Blows’) and we’re being told to sleep and dream of someone we once loved (‘In Dreams’, a cover of an original by, who else, Roy Orbison).

Regular 6music listeners will recognise ‘September Song’ and ‘Give Your Love to Her’ from the station’s playlist, both having been released as singles and gotten much support from the Laminator himself, Steve Lamacq. (‘September Song’ will, in fact, be re-released as part of a double A-sided single with the aforementioned ‘Would You Be Blue’ on the 17th of February.) ‘September Song’, with its flourishes of bright percussion taps, is a song about saying farewell to a lover in contrast to ‘Would You Be Blue’. I suppose it might be jarring to go from togetherness in track #1 to a tearful goodbyes in track #2, but I take it as interesting that both songs use the imagery of waves and them “crashing through” in the latter to describe being in love. In their Bands to Watch feature last summer, I alluded to the Hosts’ songwriting skill and how they don’t resort to anything uncouth in their lyrics. They don’t need those kind of words. No, they can woo any (well, intelligent, self-respecting) woman with any one of these songs.

Earlier single ‘Give Your Love to Her’ (stream above) is quicker in tempo than most of ‘Softly, Softly’ and, as a result, is more sprightly. I can see this song having a more visible response live in concert. But if this was the only Hosts song you knew and you bought this album, I think you would be disappointed. And there it is, the one complaint about this album: it’s a little slow. I suppose it should be expected, as it’s a collection of sentimental love songs, whether the ending of the story is happy or sad. The intention is to have the songs savoured, not having kids with their arms and legs flailing about at the local disco. Even though the chorus of ‘Wake Up’ has brightness and both ‘The One’ and cheeky closing track ‘Go Away’ benefit from maracas, these tracks don’t veer too far from the general formula (though these three songs would probably not be the ones I’d recommend to those not familiar with the band). And I am fine with this. These are the kind of songs I’d imagine I’d be spending my allowance on at the local dance hall’s jukebox if I’d been a teenager in the early Sixties.

I also know it is the kind of album my mother would buy. (As the mother of a music editor, it’s her cross to bear, having to hear promo CDs over and over again. As a result, she’s already a Hosts convert.) Had this album been out when my parents were dating, they’d be dancing to songs like this. The bigger question is, will the record-buying public bite? I do hope so. If you have a single romantic bone in your body, this should be a required purchase for your sweetie this week. (Guys, in case you’ve forgotten…Friday is Valentine’s Day!!!)

8/10

‘Softly, Softly’, the debut album from Sheffield band The Hosts, is out today, the 10th of February, on Fierce Panda. Double A-sided single ‘September Song’ / ‘Would You Be Blue’ will be released next week, on the 17th.

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[…] Blows’ – The Hosts (read my review of their 2014 album ‘Softly, Softly’ here) 5. ‘Sofie’ – The Crookes (read my review of their 2014 album […]

[…] You Be Blue’ by the Hosts (stream below) from this year’s debut album from them, ‘Softly, Softly’. Meanwhile, the loneliness of the protagonist of The Crookes ‘Howl’ from […]

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