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Hard-Fi - Once Upon A Time In The West

Hard-Fi, Once Upon A Time In The West

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT’S almost a given in entertainment circles that today’s hot new act is tomorrow’s fallen giant. Critics seem to take a perverse pleasure in building people up only to knock them down.

Hard-Fi appear to have suffered more than most. Hailed as bright new socio-political upstarts from Staines following the release of their self-produced Stars Of CCTV long-player, they now appear to be suffering a backlash as they prepare to unveil their sophomore album.

The main talking point? The borderline pretentious artwork that has accompanied most of the new material, which puts forward statements such as “No Cover Art” or “not to be sold to music and video exchange by privileged record company workers”. Personally, I think it’s the musings of a band having some fun – maybe even fucking with the journalists they know are waiting to turn around and bite them.

But no matter, a lot of critics took the bait and bit back. Hence, there are a lot of indifferent reviews to be found that proclaim sophomore release Once Upon A Time In The West as something of a disappointment.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, it’s an emphatic return from a band that’s clearly blossoming in splendid fashion. Yes, they do perhaps take themselves a little too seriously.

But when it comes to mixing hard-hitting lyrics with catchy riffs, chant-along choruses and an undisputable feelgood factor, Hard-Fi are on a par with Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys (in my humble opinion).

The first half of the new album is a particular delight, rammed full of highlights from the moment the now-familiar spaghetti western vibe of Suburban Knights kicks things in motion.

It’s one of those tracks that – contrary to expecation – seems to get better with age, the guitar loops providing a near-constant joy and the “hey, hey, hey” chanting impossible to ignore whenever it’s blaring from radios across the land.

But this is only the tip of the formidable ice-berg. Second track I Shall Overcome is another anthem in waiting, a statement of intent that draws from The Clash along the way to delivering a rousing chorus complete with lively backing vocals. The stop-start guitars are terrific.

Tonight, meanwhile, changes the tempo beautifully, a shimmering piano-based effort that finds Richard Archer combining tenderness with defiance. The verses are softly delivered but the chorus is made for those cigarette lighters to be raised on high.

Yes, there’s a suspicion that some of the background “woohs” and “aahs” may be a lazy device, but they’re pretty darn effective. And the strings that unfold midway through are an especially nice touch.

The big orchestral sound is expanded on another highlight, Watch Me Fall Apart, which flirts with old-school Motown at times, while calling on some atmospheric background chanting. It’s quite far removed from a lot of the work on Stars Of CCTV and thrilling evidence of the band stretching themselves creatively – and not doing what might have been expected.

One suspects that tracks like I Close My Eyes were written purely to keep the mosh-pit sweaty during live shows, as it’s the first generic offering – sound checking The Verve in places.

But the quality is soon restored on Television, an uptempo lament at consumerism and politics that takes the form of an arms in the air rallying call. The chorus, once again, demonstrates Hard-Fi’s ability to deliver easy crowd-pleasers while making sharp social observations.

In contrast, the tender Help Me Please is an aching, Noel Gallagher-esque ballad that contains a stark fragility – born out of the sorrow Richard still feels at the loss of his mother.

Can’t Get Along, meanwhile, plays on some R&B influences to mix up the tempo once again, while there’s plenty of ’70s Ska on We Need Love – albeit to less inspired effect.

Little Angel, though, is a real crowd rouser that sets things up in suitably brash fashion for the closing effort that is the strings-laden The King, a slow-builder that reflects on lost opportunity and wasted potential.

The good news, however, is that Hard-Fi have lost none of their potential – rather, they’ve risen above the sceptics to deliver a cracking sophomore album that confirms their status as one of Britain’s brightest new bands.

Once Upon A Time In The West shoots sharp and almost always hits its targets.

Download picks: Suburban Knights, I Shall Overcome, Tonight, Watch Me Fall Apart, Television, Help Me Please, Little Angel, The King

Track listing:

  1. Suburban Knights
  2. I Shall Overcome
  3. Tonight
  4. Watch Me Fall Apart
  5. I Close My Eyes
  6. Television
  7. Help Me Pleas
  8. Can’t Get Along
  9. We Need Love
  10. Little Angel
  11. The King

  1. Being reading the reviews of this album on the net, Guardian, NME, etc — I bought it yesterday — and this is the best written review so far. It gives you a really good understanding for what the music is like and cleverly puts the cover art/no cover art debate into perspective. Not sure if I’d give it 4 out of 5 though. It’s still growing on me and I always thought Stars of CCTV was going to be bloody hard to surpass. That was one of the best first albums I’ve ever heard, and I’m not exactly young any more.

    Geoff    Sep 15    #