It's strange and silly, cartoonish, stupid and confused - and yet the latest missive from Staines makes for an oddly compulsive listen
In 1949, Arthur Miller’s seminal play Death Of A Salesman called time on the popular cultural dominance of the male. For the first time, the Y chromosome was outed as having the propensity to be needy, uncertain and a bit pathetic. In 2011, we have ‘[b]Killer Sounds[/b]’ by [a]Hard-Fi[/a], in its own (far less seminal, we should add) way just as timely a treatise on the crisis in masculinity.
It’s one of the most batshit strange records you’re ever likely to hear. Since Miller’s masterwork, we’ve seen flower power, disco, miners’ strikes, the selfdefeating swagger of ‘[b]New Lad[/b]’ and then, finally, the dreaded caring noughties chip away at boys and boyishness until we find ourselves in our current situation where, in music at least, it’s the girls, and maybe the gays, who Run The World. There isn’t really any other word for it; ‘[b]Killer Sounds[/b]’ is just bizarre. It doesn’t help that the wind obviously changed some time around 1996 and Richard Archer’s oversized furrowed brow stayed like that, and that his existential struggle over whether he wants to be a yob or a Guardianista is never far from the surface, making even the title unclear.
Is that a Pete Tong pisstake or actually what [a]Hard-Fi[/a] think is a good name for an album? The Staines Four have always had this about them of course, a studied version of sensitive yobbishness, 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 ‘[b]No Cover Art[/b]’ fiasco, they’ve gone to ground and made an album of such cartoonish thuggery it makes even ‘[b]Famous First Words[/b]’ by [a]Viva Brother[/a] sound like a Pitchfork indie record.
The whole thing is so stylised. For one thing, it’s actually really difficult to sing in an accent – Simon from Biffy, for example, often tries to sing in his Scottish brogue and comes up against a world of shit from people who reckon he’s trying to sound American. Here, Archer’s bovver-boy snarl is so over the top throughout that it can only sound like he’s acting. Not even acting up, just acting. And where in the past [a]Hard-Fi[/a] would sneak some social message into their radio hits, on ‘[b]Killer Sounds[/b]’ the messages range from ‘[b]Good For Nothing[/b]”s denouncement of a no-good upstairs neighbour (”good for drinking too much and flicking ash in a paper cup”, confusingly); to [b]’Stop'[/b]’s epic declaration of being, y’know, all crazy like.
Wonderfully, [b]’Feels Good'[/b] appears to rewrite Dillinger’s ‘[b]Cocaine In My Brain[/b]’ for the Soccer AM generation, while the emergence of a sensitive side is carefully flagged up by naming a track ‘Love Song’. And yet … and yet … ‘[b]Killer Sounds[/b]’ 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.
See, rather than playing up to the worst ‘real songs’ bleatings of those who tend to practise Music For Boys, every track here is colourful and OTT, be it parping reggae or creeping shards of Gatecrasher rave. And in the end it’s this peacocky panache that carries it through. Because – for a fair few of the right reasons as well as a lot of the wrong ones – Hard-Fi have made the kind of record that it becomes very difficult to take your eyes off. Because what else do you do with a crisis but make a Day-Glo drama out of it?