June 21, 2004
Hope Of The States : The Lost Riots
This was always going to be an important record...
9 / 10
This was always going to be an important record. A year ago, Hope Of The States had just released 'Black Dollar Bills' and whispers had already begun - an odd little band from Chichester delivering lush, politicised polemics were making Radiohead look over their shoulder. Their inspired live shows, with band members in military jackets and featuring simple, dramatic arty movies, were becoming legendary. The band never made any grand statements about taking over the house, but they had
a confidence and steel that suggested they were going to be special. And then guitarist Jimmi Lawrence committed suicide. What had been an anticipated debut became
a record cloaked in tragedy. It didn't just need to be important, it needed to be a piece of revolutionary might, big enough to carry its own weight.
From the opening velvet-Morricone sweep of 'The Black Amnesias' to the point at which singer Sam Herlihy pleads "I hope I get a chance to finish what I started" on closing track '1776', 'The Lost Riots' is the sound of a band with a singular vision. Herlihy always said he wanted this record to mean something, for Hope Of The States to reach high and, if nothing else, for it to be a Napoleonic folly - a widescreen epic, huge in scope and imagination but doomed to fail. Well, it's no failure.
Instead, this is an album that reflects and bears witness on our times with originality and wit. Rarely has a band been so equally fascinated and sickened by America. And theirs is not just an obvious obsession with the pop culture of the last 40 years. Hope Of The States launch broadsides at sneaking US-led globalisation, they call for Tony Blair to stand up and be counted against President Bush and they go back to the start when America was a bold, new world and everything seemed possible. The album is bursting with references to American cultural landmarks, from 'George Washington' to '1776', the year the declaration of independence was signed.
There are other oblique allusions at work too. 'The Black Amnesias' takes its title from a painting based on a Sylvia Plath poem dealing with fears of mortality. It's not exactly 'Rollover DJ'. And take 'Nehemiah' - he was the chap who in 500BC rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonians burned them down. They may have chosen the title because they liked the word - like 'Insania' - but that's unlikely. HOTS are clever and they're not afraid to shout about it.
But don't go thinking that this is the work of a bunch of self-satisfied undergraduates keen to show they know their onions. 'The Lost Riots' is neither stodgy nor pretentious. It deals in big simple themes - loss, hope, joy and love. It's a glorious, swirling state of the union address told with soul and fierce intent.
And you don't need to be Simon Schama to be moved. Hope Of The States
adore Libertines and they know that to be a great rock'n'roll band you've got to have tunes. And boy do they have tunes. When the instrumental coda kicks in on 'Black Dollar Bills', you realise you're listening to this generation's 'I Am The Resurrection'. Expansive, cinematic
and full of majesty, it's breathtaking.
Echoes of other acts ripple through 'The Lost Riots' - the patient, sprawling chamber rock of Godspeed You Black Emperor, the political invective of early Manic Street Preachers, the textured vision of Radiohead, the yearning playfulness of Mercury Rev - but these are signposts left here and there for others because HOTS are drawing their own map.
Detractors have held up Sam Herlihy's voice as the weak link in the HOTS chain - too slight to carry the songs. But it
fits the music perfectly. What could be better to carry heartfelt calls to arms than a raw voice that cracks and falters as the emotion kicks in?
Of course, his constant urging to not let the bastards grind you down, from the Verve-like chant of "Come on people make a stand/Come on people if you try, you can" on 'Nehemiah' to the repeated titular line in the anthemic 'Don't Go To Pieces' could be read as direct messages to Jimmi Lawrence. But he died after the album was recorded; there is nothing here he didn't work on. Look at the messages instead as his legacy, a heartfelt plea to do the only thing he couldn't.
Hope Of The States are changing what a band can do and be. Coldplay recently said they were going to go away and reinvent the wheel. Hope Of The States got there first.
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