Three albums in and Hurts try to tackle optimism, but it’s not without a few clichés along the way.
On the surface Hurts appear to be the same band they were five years ago. After releasing their despondent debut Happiness in 2010 Theo Hutchcraft (vocals) and Adam Anderson (synths and everything else) are still suit-clad with slicked back hair – they’ve even kept the same logo. It’s this strict aesthetic that leaves room for their musical evolution to really shine through.
After the release of their first album, the duo carved out a reputation for themselves as the princes of misery. Lead track Wonderful Life recounts the story of a man contemplating suicide, while Stay contains the gut-wrenching lyrics: “Though I tried to tell you that I need you, here I am without you, I feel so lost but what can I do?”
Three years and an exhausting touring schedule later came Exile. Significantly darker, the electronic grunge effort told tales of a love so intense it takes over your entire existence, as heard on Blind: “Girl I told you, that it would tear me in two if I see you with someone else” and Help: “You’ll keep me safe from harm, cause I found what I was missing when I fell into your arms.”
Now comes Surrender, the third studio album from the Manchester natives. From the quintessentially strong synths to the empowering pop melodies, the band’s latest offering is moving in a different direction compared to their previous albums but still clings on to the core qualities that make them successful. Whilst continuing to be avant-garde and theatrical, the album has a much more upbeat and optimistic feel.
The title-track opener though is not vocalist Hutchcraft. It is in fact a collection of soulful female voices paired with striking percussive tones which bleeds into Some Kind Of Heaven – first teased by the band back in May. At just under one minute and 20 seconds the introduction is uplifting and powerful with a polished sound as building strings and echoing drums offset the Whitney Houston-esque vocals. Perhaps this is the “choir of angels” Hutchcraft refers to in the following song.
Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us echoes a 2015 version of Better Than Love as Hutchcraft emphatically sings: “It’s harder to say that to leave you, I needed a reason, I’m walking away because I don’t want to face what I’m feeling.” Long-term collaborator Jonas Quant (No Doubt, Leona Lewis) provides these elements of sonic consistency. The Swedish producer co-wrote several of the tracks as well as shaping the album.
Slow, as the title suggests, is the point where things start to become more mellow. Opening with bold and brash synths reminiscent of the chunky Ten Walls track Walking With Elephants, the sultry lyrical content sounds like it could be a contender for the next 50 Shades of Grey film. “All I can think when you take off your mink is it’s over” purrs Hutchcraft before demanding: “rent me your body, I’ll pay you with my soul.”
Piano ballad Wish is Hurts at their cinematic and melancholic best. With a variety of references to London locations (“At the Piccadilly station, I felt my heartbeat racing/on that Camberwell road I found a mirror for my soul”) the song could easily soundtrack a Richard Curtis rom-com. While gripping lyrics like: “we’re only victims of timing” produce an immediate sympathy for Hutchcraft, this is soon lost as clichés of life on tour start to emerge: “I became a man from New York City to Japan, but that don’t give me satisfaction.”
Penultimate tune Weight Of The World is eerie as Hutchcraft’s reverberated vocal opens with: “I’ve got trouble on my mind.” Dipping in between dark distortion and delicate falsetto he has a clear Jekyll and Hyde approach. With borderline dubstep synths pulsating throughout its entire three minutes and forty seconds this is the band’s most prominent sonic departure.
This isn’t the only surprise thrown up by Surrender though. Disco banger Kaleidoscope is full of sparkling synths that make it shinier than a giant glitter ball while Perfect Timing includes a sneaky, sultry saxophone solo.
The only major disappointment is album closer Policewoman. While not an overly-offensive song, with its impressive vocal performance, the track is lacklustre and deprived of emotion. It’s not the kind of conclusion you would expect from a Hurts record. A more logical outro would be the delicately constructed yet surging Wings as Hutchcraft repetitively chirps towards a crescendo: “Wrap your wings around my body.”
Surrender is an appropriate, if not somewhat predictable, continuation for Hurts. Typically the album is about love, whether it be a romance lost or a romance found, but Anderson’s electronic arrangements alongside Hutchcraft’s haunting vocals still make for a compelling listen.
Words by Shannon Cotton