It’s not so much that The Hoosiers divide opinion. They are, in fact, discerning pop-rockers whose biggest vice is an unintended knack of inspiring apathy. Their debut album, The Trick To Life, was a number one seller, and had a couple of nifty singles; but in the critical sense, The Hoosiers stand firmly in purgatory. Not bad, not great.
And so Irwin Sparkes (smashing name, by the way) and company have faced something of a conundrum: continue down the middle of the road and sell another LP by the bucketload, or tweak the formula in search of critical acclaim. No prizes for guessing which devil won out.
Not that The Hoosiers formula is inherently inferior: even the surliest of scenesters will admit that there are pleasures to be had with a generous slice of pop-rock indulgence, especially when it’s in the relatively irony-free Hoosiers mould. Be thankful that this isn’t I Thought It Was Over by the bloody Feeling.
As it turns out, The Illusion Of Safety’s opening gambit represents something of a departure. Choices, as you’ve no doubt already discovered, is annoyingly good in a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? sort of way. An impressively irresistible staccato synth riff wastes no time in flourishing into a mini-masterpiece as Sparkes’ now-trademark vocals breathe life into a melody sure to haunt the most resistant of ears well into the foreseeable future. And those Oriental-style embellishments? Mangiare.
Following the formula of a successful mix-tape, things are ramped up a little further in Bumpy Ride – a fist-clenching pop anthem invasive enough to soundtrack the most fantastical of montages – before Who Said Anything (About Falling In Love)? brings the tempo to its nadir with a Casio drumbeat and suitably forlorn chorus.
Second single Unlikely Hero is next in the running order. Sat somewhere in the narrow territory between 2007 single Goodbye Mr A and Choices, there’s a touch of synth among the power chords – and further evidence of the band’s ability to pen an catching hook – though the track lacks the charm of either of its predecessors.
Indeed, the comparative catchiness of The Hoosiers’ singles – and a select track or two in addition – set a standard the rest of The Illusion Of Safety labours to match, particularly given the inoffensive, wholesome blueprint stuck to throughout. Live By The Ocean, for instance, fulfills the same criteria as every Hoosier track – smart lyrics, pop panache, and a glowing chorus – but lacks the je ne sais quoi of the band’s best.
Deviations, too, while somewhat disarming, carry an air of difference for difference’s sake: listen as Devil’s In The Detail entertains unnerving glockenspiel and falsetto that sounds like the band exorcising alt-ambition demons. In fairness, though, album closer Little Brutes’ maudlin gypsy-folk does serve as a striking full stop.
The Illusion Of Safety is very much The Trick To Life Part Two: there are a couple of top singles on offer, but, in the same way Worst Case Scenario charted at 76 after Goodbye Mr A made the top five, The Hoosiers may again find that shameless pop-rock, as pleasurable as it can be, has a relatively short shelf life. Take from this LP what you will while it lasts.