Review Summary: Better Than Love.
Nostalgia is a powerful, powerful thing. It’s the reason bands like Motley Crue and Limp Bizkit still have careers. For many, it’s far easier to gaze through the sepia-tinged window of days gone by than to wander blind into an uncertain future. While innovative bands that push genre boundaries certainly have their place in the music industry, sometimes it’s better for a group to sound somewhat familiar. It’s a quality that makes them welcoming, and taps into the deep veins of nostalgia that run through our heads.
“Happiness” is the debut release from young Manchester synthpop group Hurts. In case you were wondering, yes, the album title is ironic. The lyrical themes present on this album include such charming topics as relationships ending, suicide and sitting cold and alone in a hospital with nothing but the “lullabies of the machines” to comfort you. But this is not a collection that is saturated with despair- rather, this is a glorious affirmation of humanity’s continual triumph against adversity, as well as one of the classiest and elegant pop albums to have been released in years.
The whole thing is conducted on an impressively grand scale, with orchestras and choirs swooping in at any given moment to elevate the music to a near-ridiculous state of immensity. Rather than dominate the music, the electronics employed on “Happiness” serve more to embellish songs than to drive the album, with gorgeous bursts of synth used to powerful effect on “Blood, Tears and Gold” and “Evelyn” to name but two songs. The production of the album is excellent, with every massive soundscape given just the right amount of room to breathe to engulf the listener.
But all this razzle-dazzle would be pointless if there were no good songs. Fortunately, Hurts have good songs in spades. Each of the 11 cuts on “Happiness” is a generous slice of melodic brilliance, each song earning its place on the tracklisting and each one in the correct position to make maximum impact. From the grandiose opening gambit of “Silver Lining” to the chilling piano balladry of closer “The Water”, “Happiness” is an enchanting journey of honey-sweet melodies and instrumental swells that never sacrifices momentum.
The album is remarkably consistent, but there are nonetheless highlights. “Sunday” contrasts with the mid-paced nature of the rest of the material by throwing up chunky synth lines and pulsing rhythms, all topped off with glorious vocal hooks by the marvellously voiced Theo Hutchcraft. “Devotion” is a duet themed around adultery with none other than Kylie Minogue, her vocals meshing effortlessly with Theo’s to create beautiful harmonies. But best of all is “Better than Love”, a synth-laden masterpiece of a song that encapsulates within three minutes everything that makes Hurts a brilliant band.
“Happiness” is the 80s pop classic that never was. It chops up Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran and blends them together to create a potent electro-pop formula that never fails to produce gorgeous hooks. For a debut album, “Happiness” is remarkably well-crafted and consistent, and its creators are one of the most refreshing and talented new groups in a scene that has long since been stagnant. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but this album is a powerful statement of intent from a band sure to become major players on the world scene.
Better than Love