Up till now, tha name Hal has been associated with the computer in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Oddessy. One of the great screen villains, Hal was an artificially intelligent computer who became malevolent, sinister and ultimately homicidal. Yet if you’re expecting the group of the same name to conjure up similar emotions, think again.
Dublin’s Hal are a million miles from their sci-fi namesake. They’re also a long way from today’s clutch of oh-so-trendy bands such as The Bravery, Bloc Party and The Killers with cool haircuts, New Order-style hooks and blatantly ’80s influences. Hal deal in that most old-fashioned of concepts: songs, harmonies and a relentlessly upbeat, uplifting atmosphere.
They’ve inevitably been compared to fellow Irishmen The Thrills, and it’s true that if you enjoy their sound, then you’ll find much to enjoy in Hal. The first two tracks here (and recent singles) give a pretty good indication of the feel of the album. What A Lovely Dance and Play The Hits are both classic pop songs – fun, bouncy and catchy as hell.
Elsewhere, the band’s American influences are never too far from the fore. Don’t Come Running is very Beach Boys, but it can’t be denied that the Hal boys can do some great harmonies. These come to the fore again in Fools By Your Side, which shows off lead singer Dave Allen’s falsetto vocals while the band harmonise behind him to excellent effect.
The only problem with this relentless sweetness is that it’s a bit too much over the course of one album. Like scoffing a chocolate cake all at once, you end up feeling a bit sickly after about half an hour. It’s also disappointing that after the incredibly strong opening to the album, the second half gets dragged down in rather pedestrian ballad territory. Allen’s voice also becomes a bit grating, especially in the Bees Gees soundalike of My Eyes Are Sore.
There’s enough great moments here though to file Hal under the ‘highly promising’ banner. Worry About The Wind still sounds as lovely as it did when it criminally sank without trace on its single release last year, and Coming Right Over makes for a suitably uplifting end to the album.
If Hal can keep their more annoying quirks in hand – there’s a few too many unnecessary tempo changes here for comfort – then they could well produce a truly great album in time. This isn’t it, but for a debut it’s not half bad. If you’re looking for some songs to loll around to in the sunshine over the next few months, you could do a lot worse than investigate Hal.