Once Upon a Time in the West Nec­es­sary/At­lantic, £12·99

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Arts -

Hard-Fi Hard-Fi’s de­but album, Stars of CCTV (2005), was a slow-burn hit. Recorded inside a mini-cab of­fice, and in cars, pubs and bed­rooms around the band’s home town of Staines in Mid­dle­sex, its snapshots of sub­ur­ban bore­dom re­worked as indie-pop an­thems were per­fect for drive-time ra­dio. They even­tu­ally car­ried the album to No 1.

Hard-Fi said they were cut from the same cloth as Oa­sis, but the curled lips, com­bat jack­ets and shouty cho­ruses all seemed a bit panto. They couldn’t dis­guise the fact that singer Richard Archer was no Liam Gal­lagher, just a mu­si­cally ob­sessed, hard-work­ing and sen­si­tive sub­ur­ban boy, who got up to mild-man­nered mis­chief at week­ends.

When they missed out on the Mer­cury Prize (by one vote to Antony and the John­sons) and then two Brit Awards, Archer par­tic­u­larly seemed to take it as a crit­i­cal snub for their parochial lad­dism – his sense of iso­la­tion com­pounded by the loss of both his par­ents over the course of the band’s rise to fame.

As a re­sult, Hard-Fi have come back with a sec­ond album that seems weighed down by the chip on Archer’s shoul­der. The for­mula of the first album is re­peated, from the mini-cab of­fice stu­dio to the army-style cho­ruses, but all the joy and hope has been stripped away. Archer does re­tain his pop-ra­dio touch on Sub­ur­ban Knights and Television and even evokes the spirit of Rob­bie Wil­liams on I Shall Over­come, but the songs are let down by their leaden, moody rhythms. Things get so ridicu­lously over-egged that Watch Me Fall Apart could be the open­ing num­ber from “Sub­ur­bia – The Mu­si­cal!”

It’s only when Archer drops the empty, “life ain’t easy workin’ for the man” mantra and gets in touch with his sen­si­tive, soul­ful side that the album be­gins to shim­mer. The horn-toot­ing, 1960s soul-in­fused Can’t Get Along lifts the mood (is that a wo­man singing?) and We Need Love sounds like a plea di­rect from the band’s heart. If only they’d drop their grumpy fist-shak­ing at the world out­side Staines, Hard-Fi might be a lot eas­ier to em­brace.

Moody, sub­ur­ban and soul­ful: Hard-Fi, with Richard Archer sec­ond from left

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