Once Upon A Time In The West
Recorded in an old taxi cabin that cost £300 to rent, Hard-Fi's debut album went on to sell nearly a million copies, picking up Mercury and Brit nominations along the way. The quartet returned to their hometown of Staines to record this, their second album, which they will be promoting with an imminent tour. The 11 tracks were written by frontman Richard Archer, who also took up co-production duties.
Latest single "Suburban Knights" opens the record in typical Hard-Fi anthem style, its backing vocals frightfully infectious making the track a fantastic way to open a record. It's something of a false indication of what is to come though, as there is much more variation to be found here than on "Stars Of CCTV". The dynamic acoustic guitar bursts of "I Shall Overcome" could form a Justin Timberlake offering, but it takes on a much darker tone than you might expect. No longer writing about working class city life, Archer has become more introspective, no more so than on "Help Me Please", a fragile song similar to some of Oasis' older B-sides, which deals with the loss of his mother. Even the joyous swagger that is "Can't Get Along" is about realising that you need someone, while the simplistic and catchy "We Need Love" comments on getting rid of social friction. Having previously merged dub and rock successfully, elements of ska are now incorporated in the shape of "Little Angel", while R'n'B rhythms flow through "The King".
Standing out from the pack is "Tonight", a patient piano-led ballad with a hint of soul and another set of backing vocals that fans will latch onto with ease. Grand and expansive, it is an indication that there may be much more to the Staines boys than they are generally credited for. Going back tow hat they do best, "Television" is a rant against the power of corporate media and those who seek fame. The "Hallelujah" chant of the chorus is another that will go down well at live shows, as the track bounces along at a decent pace. Unfortunately it is followed by the two worst songs on the album, the monotonous "Watch Me Fall Apart" and the tragic "I Close My Eyes". Built on the psychedelic cranked up bass of Kai Stephens, it is musically decent but the shouted vocal delivery from Archer is hugely misplaced and tempts the use of the skip button. It is always admirable to see a band try new ideas and in this case the results are mixed. Perhaps an album title of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" may have been more appropriate.