Album Review: Hurts – Surrender

By on Friday, 2nd October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Hurts Surrender album cover“If this is love, why does it hurt so bad?”

When Hurts’ debut album ‘Happiness’ was released in 2010, it debuted at #4 on the UK albums chart. But in this post-Mac DeMarco lo-fi, slacker rock / post-Tame Impala psychedelic time in indie, are the music-buying public keen for a new album from Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson? Or maybe the better question to ask is if the same fans who bought their first two albums will like this new one?

They’ve certainly ticked off all the right boxes when it comes to personnel: in addition to working with long-time collaborator Swedish producer Jonas Quant, the Manchester duo enlisted heavy hitters Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers) and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, We Are Scientists, Vampire Weekend) to lend their assistance in shaping ‘Surrender’. The result is a highly textured effort, having enough variety in pace and instrumentation to keep listeners on their toes and interest up. The album begins on an uplifting enough note: the title track soars with gospel singers vocalising against epic sounding synths and beats that have become Hurts’ trademark.

While the broody darkness Hutchcraft and Anderson so carefully cultivated for ‘Happiness’ (and again tapped into on 2013’s ‘Exile’ for songs like ‘The Road’) is evident if you’re paying close attention Hutchcraft’s vocals, the feeling of the first half of the album rhythmically is an upbeat one that may mask what’s lying underneath to the casual listener. On one hand, in a satisfying way, none of the songs early on in the tracklist of ‘Surrender’ ever register too low on the heartbeat monitor, making it wholly reasonable competition to the just-released second album from Disclosure, ‘Caracal’. On the other hand, an important question to ask is what exactly have they risked in these by going further into even more mainstream pop territory?

Aye, there are minor key synth progressions on ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ and Hutchcraft does an admirable job in making his voice soar during the breakdown, but the relentless beats sound so massive, there is no questioning their importance over anything else on this track. Another early reveal, ‘Lights’, sounds like the love child of Daft Punk slowed down and disco funk; the ‘Kaleidoscope’ “that keeps me spinning” appears to have been cut from the same cloth. ‘Perfect Timing’ takes the ’80s cliches of a saxophone solo and programmed drum beats but is clearly designed for the dance floor as well. If you’re a fan of the desperate love anthems as played out on their earlier single hits ‘Wonderful Life’ or ‘Sunday’, I can sense your concern amid these dance floor bangers.

The aptly named ‘Slow’ is a languid, sultry jam, oozing from beat to beat, with moments of Hutchcraft’s voice rising up in almost a shout – “I just want to love you, I just want to hold you close / what you’re doing here is murder, when you whip your body close“ – while pulling back to a softer timbre on the verses. It seems like the second half of ‘Surrender’ is a compromise, especially if you spring for the deluxe edition with three bonus tracks that include ‘Weight of the World’, with its industrial grinding sound like the most previous Hurts-esque effort of the new material. At the end of the album, ‘Wings’ is swiftly followed by ‘Wish’, both exhibiting the grandeur of the Hurts we first came to know 5 years ago. ‘Wings’, the non-dance standout of the album, spins a tale of fallen angels and the safety of a lover – “there’s a hole in my parachute as big as my heart / and the gravity is pulling me down / will you catch me when I fall? / wrap your wings around my body” – and it’s beautiful imagery.

If you do spring for the deluxe edition, your album will end with ‘Policewoman’, which from the outset seems like a strange title to close out an album on. It starts with organ notes, making is sound almost hymnal, and as the song progresses, it seems to be describing a woman with responsibility for keeping the mean streets clear of crime and hoodlums (“when I hear those sirens coming / my iron maiden’s running / to serve and protect my loving”). But it’s got to be more than that, to be about a higher power, something bigger, much as I think is the purpose of ‘Surrender’ as it ends with ominous clanking and what sounds like the words “from the pain” repeated. While they’ve evolved towards a dancier direction on the first half of this album, the second half reminds us that this is just one chapter of the ongoing story of Hurts. From their newest album, you just get the sense that there is so much more that they are destined for.

8/10

‘Surrender’, the third album from Manchester dark electropop duo Hurts, is out next Friday, the 9th of October, on Sony and will be available in regular and deluxe versions. The band have three live dates in the UK scheduled in February. For past coverage of Hurts on TGTF, including my review of the excellent first taster from the new album, ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, go here.

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