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