HURTS~EXILEFew bands polarise opinion amongst the synth community quite like HURTS. Some admire their grandiose aesthetic which follows in the footsteps of bands like ULTRAVOX and A-HA.

Others see Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson as nothing more than a boy band with a synthesizer and a good tailor. Like them or loathe them, there is no denying their success. Debut album ‘Happiness’, released in 2010, has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and topped the charts in five European countries. A quarter of a million people came to see their accompanying live shows.

HURTS are big business, and set to become even bigger with the release of their long awaited second album, ‘Exile’. The build up to ‘Exile’ has been carefully stage managed, with photos, teasers and free downloads drip fed to the fanbase, slowly raising anticipation to fever pitch. Theo and Adam are masters of using social media to create a buzz.

After all, the HURTS story began with a low budget yet brilliant monochromatic video for ‘Wonderful Life’, featuring Theo singing to camera accompanied by a quirky female dancer. The video spread like wildfire around music blogs and social networks, and a record deal with RCA followed soon thereafter.

Lead single for the new album is ‘Miracle’, and whilst its video has a much higher production values than its 2009 predecessor, the band’s trademark dancers are still there. The video also points to a subtle change in the band’s sound; Adam, who has previously been seen sitting behind a piano, is now brandishing a guitar. HURTS are back, and they have attitude! ‘Miracle’ is bold, anthemic and looks set to trigger a “hands in the air” response at stadiums worldwide a la SIMPLE MINDS.

Not only do guitars feature more prominently on this album, but also the whole mood of the record is darker than before. Opening track ‘Exile’ sets the tone, with its lyrics “so we’ll say goodbye girl, and watch as the world burns, this is exile” It’s a slow builder with a more than a touch of MUSE about it, and perhaps this is no coincidence. Like Teignmouth’s most famous sons, HURTS like to make a statement and could have their sights set on world domination!

The album sees Theo and Adam experimenting with musical styles and never more so than on ‘Sandman’. This track sounds oddly like a TIMBALAND production with its hip hop-influenced backing track overlaid with eerie childlike vocals. Similarly, ‘Blind’ is punctuated by a looped tribal chant sample, although this ultimately proves a distraction from what is otherwise a compelling torch song about lost love and jealousy.

Proceedings take a turn to the dark side with ‘The Road’ inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s pitch black novel of the same name. Here HURTS break out the guitars and launch an aural assault which seems intended to shatter any cynical preconceptions of the duo as a lightweight boy band.

On ‘Cupid’ he massive guitar riffs and abrasive synths are evocative of the DEPECHE MODE meisterwerk ‘Songs of Faith & Devotion’. Lyrically Hutchcraft shares common ground with Martin Gore too: “I feel lust like a sick disease and my blood ignites when I hold you close to me”. This is an album highlight which might just induce a feeling a visceral excitement in many a jaded DM fan.

The rush continues with ‘Mercy’ which is even more bombastic. Stabs of chapel choir add to the intensity as Hutchcraft implores, “don’t cry mercy, there’s too much pain to come.” Is Andrew Eldritch in the house? Finally the gloom lifts, and the closing tracks are perhaps more what one would expect from HURTS. Theo channels CHRIS ISAAK on dreamy ballad ‘The Crow’ which evokes cinematic images of smalltown America. ‘Somebody To Die For’ is a stirring anthem in the mould of ‘Blood, Tears & Gold’ from the first album, whilst album closer ‘Help’ slowly builds to a rousing climax courtesy of a gospel choir.

HURTS have returned with a fine album that retains the core spirit of the band whilst introducing a more diverse sonic palette. Is it a synthpop record? No. Will it silence the detractors? Probably not. But ‘Exile’ is bold, ambitious and at times majestic. In an era when the charts are overrun with autotuned dance and RnB landfill, HURTS, with all their romance, drama and passion, are surely something to be cherished.

‘Exile’ is released by Major Label/RCA on CD, deluxe CD+DVD and download

HURTS 2013 live dates include:

Zürich Kaufleuten (23rd March) Milan Magazzini Generali (25t March), Vienna Arena (27th March), Prague Lucerna Music Bar (28th March), Amsterdam Melkweg (30th March), Manchester Academy 2 (1st April), Glasgow Garage (2nd April), Hanover, NDR2 Plaza Festival (24th May), Manchester O2 Apollo  (25th October), London Troxy (26th October), Prague Incheba Arena (8th November), Berlin Velodrom (10th November), Munich Zenith (11th November), Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electric Halle (13th November), Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle (14th November)

Text by Steve Gray
20th March 2013