Synth pop duo fall flat...

Up until now it's been difficult to pinpoint just exactly what Hurts are. On one side of the spectrum exists the visual monochrome edginess and sartorial cool which could make even the most romantic of New Romantics blush, while at the other lurks the actuality that this is the same duo who count David Sneddon among their songwriting contributors and whose major chart breakthrough came on the back of a Calvin Harris single.

The band's aptly-titled debut, 'Happiness', won admirers for its peppy synth sensibilities, while the follow up 'Exile' LP pulled an unexpected volte face and sounded a bit like a bad Depeche Mode gone pop. In Europe they sell out arenas, in the UK they still haven't yet fully cracked the Academy circuit.

Here on album three, 'Surrender', the duo front up with what they truly want to be: a really big pop act. Like, a really, really big pop act. The type of pop act who don't balk at nor find ridiculous the idea of opening their album with gospel singers and ecclesiastical intonations such as "I am ready for the rapture" and "I don't need God to tell me I'm wrong, I don't need hell to make me scared of love".

Throughout, 'Surrender' is peppered with the sort of EDM bombast that you might expect from the duo given their aforementioned chart success, but too often it feels chintzy and derivative. 'Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us' is geared towards its big electro chorus drop to the point you wish they just included it as an instrumental rather than having to endure the gratingly schmaltzy lyrics and woh-oh harmonies that just scream T4 On The Beach.

Equally jarring, for completely different reasons, are slower moments such as 'Policewoman', which impossibly sounds a bit like Frank Ocean's 'Pink Matter' being channelled by Gary Barlow, and 'Wish', with its rote picture painting of big city heartache and warbling falsetto vocals which meander dangerously close to James Blunt territory.

Ironically, the best moment on 'Surrender' comes when the two extremes meet in the middle. The Prince-inspired 'Lights' bathes in a '80s neon funk which penetrates the darkness and reminds you just why, at one point, Hurts were revered as one of the country's best new bands. Hurts have always been pretty unabashed about their mainstream ambitions, which is fine, but as they explore them further, it becomes easier to strip away the affectations and see them for what they truly are: a cheesy pop band.


Words: Graeme Campbell

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