Hard-Fi – Once Upon A Time In The West
From The Kinks to The Jam, from Suede to Hard-Fi, the suburbs of outer London have provided English rock music with one of its most enduring sources of inspiration. Nevertheless, having risen to prominence by documenting the world around them, and by expressing their desire for escape, most of these bands will traditionally seize the first available opportunity to re-locate to the big city.
Unusually, Hard-Fi have defied this tradition by electing to stay put in their native Staines in Middlesex, even going to the lengths of building their own recording studio there, in a former mini-cab office. Seeing nothing to be gained from being subjected to the pressures of London life, and opting instead to remain amongst their families and friends, their perspective remains firmly, almost defiantly suburban.
Nowhere is this clearer than on the lead single Suburban Knights, with its rallying call of “We’re the ones you’ve forgotten, but we will not be denied, coming out of the shadows, we rock the satellites.” In common with most of the tracks on this follow-up to the chart-topping Stars of CCTV, the mood is rousing and anthemic, blending the staccato swagger and strut of vintage Clash and Jam with pulsing electronics and instantly memorable pop-influenced choruses.
Although the band’s musical template remains broadly similar to their debut album, there are touches of musical progression to be found, most notably in the orchestral arrangements which accompany many of its twelve tracks. Set against this is a heavy reliance on the sort of wordless terrace chants that seem purpose-built for crowd participation at live shows. Indeed, these choruses are stuffed so full of hey-ey-eys, woh-oh-ohs and aah-ah-ahs that the overall effect becomes dangerously repetitive.
However, the band’s chief weakness remains a lyrical one. For all the earnestness of Richard Archer’s delivery, it is difficult to suppress a snigger at some of the more trite lines, particularly on the first couple of listens. After all, observations such as “Television, the new religion” and “Politicians don’t wanna listen” (both from the chorus of Television) are scarcely original ones.
Similarly, I Close My Eyes would be a much more effective depiction of an office worker’s soul-crushing daily grind, if it wasn’t weighed down by pedestrian clunkers such as “I’ve got to get to work, you know I’m always late, the boss is on my back, the boss is in my face.”
That said, just because something is a cliché, it doesn’t necessarily make it any less true – and there’s something about the palpable sincerity of the band’s performance which, particularly after repeated plays, inclines you to forgive the occasional banality of their lyrics.
Unsophisticated, obvious and suburban they may be, but in this age of so-called “ITV indie”, Hard-Fi’s gauche, heart-on-sleeve sincerity is infinitely preferable to the smug, calculated superficiality of the Kaiser Chiefs, the identikit conservatism of the Kooks or The Twang, or the tastefully wan miserablism of Newton Faulkner or Snow Patrol.
For that alone, they should be welcomed back with open arms.