Few bands dare to dive - nay, cannonball - into the realms of 80s-inspired pop, but Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson’s debut record Happiness did just that. Heavily focused on the bittersweet, but still packing a sonic punch, it was rightly acclaimed by major publications and critics and appeared on many a year-end Best-Of list back in 2010. It also did remarkably well commercially, becoming the fastest-selling British debut in that particular year and hitting a peak of number four on the UK Album Chart.
So how exactly do you top that? That’s the question that will be fuelling the release of Exile, the duo’s next full-length record. Bands adapt, even ones as effortlessly mature as Hurts, and this album is no different - from the get-go, it’s clear they’ve moulded themselves to match their environment. There is a certain taste of alternative rock in the title track, so much so it could well be mistaken for a Muse B-side. Theo’s powerful voice is put through subtle but effective distortion therapy to give the track even more of a kick. Miracle again makes use of the new-found adoration for industrial guitar outbursts.
The influences don’t stop there - Sandman has a distinctly hip-hop feel to its underlying melodies (even if, as a whole, it doesn’t feel quite right), and The Cupid has a bizarre, if strangely effective, twang of country-style guitar in its hook that perhaps Seasick Steve would be proud of. The focus with this record appears to have been on the catchy, approachable pop song - even Mercy, which opens with an incredibly crunchy synth line, has an infectious chorus underlain with a distant, reverb-soaked choir of shouting.
An M83-esque keyboard yelp rings through The Road, while the album’s close, Help, is a much more subdued affair, with Theo backed by little more than a piano, a string section, a haunting baritone and the occasional kick of guitar. It could feasibly be taken straight from a movie trailer - but like a lot of the album, does feel a tad forced, occasionally toeing the line between heartfelt and contrived. For all Hurts’ uniqueness and vigour, they take themselves so very seriously that it is becomes almost laughable in places.
Despite sounding cliché, perhaps even overwrought at times, Exile is a solid album. There is no shortage of variety here, although much of it emulated from other sources, and as a whole it comes together well. It’s clear that Hurts have taken steps from their previous work but have taken pains to keep their aesthetic, retaining the same hallmarks - Theo’s voice, the strong synth focus - that made them such a hit in the first place.
Exile by Hurts is out on March 11th via RCA Records.