Hard-Fi, 'Killer Sounds' - album review
At the beginning of the year, arguments raged over the supposed death of guitar music.
The percentage of rock songs in the charts dropped to 3%, leading many to call the genre's last rites. However, as counter-arguments bubbled up thick and fast, citing brilliant, guitar-heavy albums from These New Puritans, Wild Beasts, Grinderman and countless others, it became pretty clear that what much of this hot air translated to was the death of lad rock.
It's not done much to rear its thick head this year. Beady Eye's debut single, 'The Roller', stumbled in at Number 31. The Twang's EP 'Guada', released this February, went as unnoticed as a stray turd in a sewage plant.
So then, all eyes are on Hard-Fi to see if they can get the genre and the nation back on its Reeboks with their third album, 'Killer Sounds' - and claim back the M25 region - that is, unless they've abandoned their gritty polemic in favour of something softer…
NME's Dan Martin finds the band stuck between something of a rock and a hard place. He writes that the band have always had "a studied version of sensitive yobbishness" about them, "all romanticising about young offenders' institutes while press-releasing the fact that their bass player hadn’t been allowed into America because of previous drug convictions.
But it’s as if now, having been emasculated by the underperformance of their second album and its No Cover Art fiasco, they’ve gone to ground and made an album of such cartoonish thuggery it makes even 'Famous First Words' by Viva Brother sound like a Pitchfork indie record."
An appropriate record for these socially troubled times, then? Alas, not really. "And where in the past Hard-Fi would sneak some social message into their radio hits, on ‘Killer Sounds’, the messages range from ‘Good For Nothing’’s denouncement of a no-good upstairs neighbour (“good for drinking too much and flicking ash in a paper cup”, confusingly) to ‘Stop’’s epic declaration of being, y’know, all crazy like." Deary me.
Luckily, whilst Hard-Fi don't seem to have coherence or credo under their belt, they've got a prime arsenal of tunes. Dan writes, "‘Killer Sounds’ gets away with its confused billing because Hard-Fi have always known instinctively how to navigate their way around a chorus. That skill set survives here in big, stupid bloody pop songs." Saved by their songwriting skills, Hard-Fi get 6/10 from Mr Martin.
For all that 'Killer Sounds'' lyrics are easy to lampoon, certain critics still seem to be finding a rough and ready seam of charm at its centre. The Guardian's Dave Simpson gives the record 4/5, writing that "It's somehow reassuring that Richard Archer's lyrics are still reliably Staines's finest: cliches about politicians, clunkers rhyming "cocaine" with "propane" and a timely discourse on youth frustration on the title track. 'Killer Sounds' is certainly flawed, but has an awkward yet indefatigable charm."
London paper Metro's review of the record comes similarly silver-lined, with a 4/5 rating. Writer Amy Dawson finds the lack of serious social commentary here rather pleasing, writing that 'Killer Sounds' follows "the slightly darker, more orchestral sound of 'Once Upon A Time In The West' with a collection of punchy potential huts, on which a real sense of fun (and, dare we say it, camp) abounds.” Camp? We can almost hear the crying embers of lad rock persisting, "I'm not gay, but…"
Unfortunately for Hard-Fi, that's where the praise starts tailing off. BBC's Tom Hocknell sinks his teeth into the title and doesn't let go. "Calling this set "Killer Sounds" is a brave declaration, then, and one that doesn’t wholly hold water." Well boys, if you will insist on making it easy for us hacks… Easy shots aside, Hocknell criticises the collection for its "prevailing lack of invention".
However, there's hope yet: "'Killer Sounds' is as assured as third albums should be, and were it a debut album it would be feted as a bright start. However, there is the sense we should be expecting more from Hard-Fi at this point, as the sporadic sparks of brilliance here demonstrate they are capable of it".
Strangely, the usually more MOR-leaning Telegraph and their writer James Lachno have only given 'Killer Sounds' a measly 1/10, stating, "This third album revisits the bustling industrial stomp and shout-along choruses of their debut, but has a moody, humourless air. Set against jarring synths, the macho, sexualised lyrics sound seedy – or worse, menacing – and what prosaic hooks exist are obscured by the dirge."
Some poignant words from the Independent's Andy Gill to close. He's given the record 2/5, and picked up on one particularly hamfisted lyric: "And while 'Killer Sounds' itself follows The Killers' drift into sub-Springsteenisms, the recommendation that young men 'rejoice' in their youth by letting 'destruction be a friend to you' has been roundly trumped by circumstance. Good advice, guys".
A mixed bag there, then, and definitely not the kiss of life needed to save lad rock. More a bit of a misfiring, slobbery but well-intentioned raspberry of life, should such a thing exist. Anyhonks - what do you reckon to Hard-Fi's third record?