Album Reviews

Hard-Fi – Once Upon A Time In The West

(Atlantic) UK release date: 3 September 2007

It’s difficult second album time for the lads from Staines and the media attention Hard-Fi have received ahead of the release of the follow up to 2005’s smash hit debut album Stars Of CCTV has been dominated by their “No Cover Art” artwork concept. So while other people debate the packaging, let’s focus on the content.

At the time of the debut’s release, lead singer Richard Archer told that even then, their second album was pretty much written, and that we could expect something darker from it. So is it? And would they be able to move forward from their lyrics of suburban despair when they’ve now earned enough money to make worrying about the daily grind of working for the weekend seem totally irrelevant?

Well, maybe it’s a little darker, and while perhaps there’s still a lack of depth, the songwriting has improved. And judging by the success of lead single and album opener Suburban Knights, with its talk of political apathy and out of reach suburban dreams, they’re still connecting with their audience. While that song bridges the gap between the two albums, the rest of this one moves forward, while leaving Archer’s laddish drawl intact.

As with the first album, many of these songs have the potential to be singles. I Shall Overcome shows some maturity, and Tonight is a delight with its pulsating rhythm, strings and an abundance of Wooo-oohs, Aaaa-aahs and Yeee-eeahs.

There are a couple of ballads in the midst of all the swagger. Album closer The King is a nice enough song, but the better of the two is Help Me Please. Apparently written about the death of Archer’s mother, his sad vocals are truly affecting as he pleads “help me please. I’m in need ‘cos being alone scares the life out of me.”

From that point on the album really comes into its own. Stand-out track and forthcoming single Can’t Get Along, together with the pace and horns of Little Angel, demonstrate that the band have the courage and ambition to try out some new things, taking on some Motown and soul influences. We Need Love is said to have been inspired by 1970s ska, but it sounds more like it’s reinterpreted the classic bassline of Donna Summer‘s I Feel Love and turned it into a belter of an indie tune.

However, like the first album, the weakness is that the songs are ultimately rather lightweight. Hard-Fi are quintessentially a Britpop band and in today’s guitarpop heavy music charts – perhaps that genre isn’t as dead as we’ve been told. While the songs aren’t particularly complex and won’t be to the taste of anyone after something challenging, the band impress with how easy they make straightforward songwriting look. On this evidence, Hard-Fi are still (just) a step ahead of the current wave of British bands trying their hand at catchy hook-laden songs.

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More on Hard-Fi
Hard-Fi – Once Upon A Time In The West
Hard-Fi @ Astoria, London
Interview: Hard-Fi
Hard-Fi @ Neighbourhood, London
Hard-Fi – Stars Of CCTV