It’s fitting that Hurts have excavated their darker, more introspective noir-pop beginnings for their fifth album, ‘Faith’, which was fine-tuned during lockdown. The Manchester duo’s follow-up to 2017’s ‘Desire’ is riddled with lyrics that deal with the restlessness, isolation and self-doubt the pandemic life has exposed many of us to.
There’s a pervading darkness to ‘Faith’ but, tellingly, things aren’t all doom and gloom. Multi-instrumentalist Adam Anderson addressed his mental health struggles publicly in 2017, and lead singer Theo Hutchcraft has since revealed he was at “breaking point” at the end of the duo’s last tour in 2018. ‘Faith’ is the result of two musicians finding hope when previously they only felt despair, and falling back in love with music again.
Hurts have remained pretty steadfast to their high-drama synth-pop over the last decade even if some of their gut-punch pop hooks and stories were lacking on their lighter experiments (see 2015’s ‘Surrender’ and 2017’s ‘Desire’). ‘Faith’ often sounds like the duo rediscovering the magic of their earlier records (2010’s ‘Happiness’ and 2013’s ‘Exile’) while also spicing up the formula. Elsewhere, though, they opt instead for approach so simplistic that you forget what you’ve just heard.
Take the album’s ballads, ‘All I Have To Give’ and ‘Redemption’. These are bruising, personal revelations on which Hutchcraft sing beautifully about his difficulties with opening up, crises of confidence and loss of religious faith (“Staring in the mirror / Watching as the walls are closing in / The shadow of a figure / Trying to make the best of the state I’m in”, he sings on the former). Musically, though, both tracks are the kind of identikit piano-pop filler songs you’d find on any middling chart record from the last 20 years.
Thank goodness, then, for some more inspired creation in songs, including ‘Suffer’, ‘Fractured’ and ‘Voices’. The central guttural growl of toxic love song ‘Suffer’ (which is actually the sound of a broken studio coffee machine) is dragged beneath industrial stomps and oscillating synths that coalesce for the kind of epic, euphoric chorus Hurts are great at writing.
On ‘Voices’ a country riff circles round a boisterous, rhythmically rich electro tune about Hutchcraft’s experience with paranoia (“I can hear them in my head and… I want to get ’em out”). ‘Fractured’ takes experimentation a nudge further, as he whispers a list of his perceived faults. His husky, high-pitched voice, coupled with huge, spasmodic beats and crystalline textures, comes off like he and Anderson have been taking cues from mid-‘00s Timbaland production and ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’-era Justin Timberlake.
‘White Horses’, meanwhile, dredges up the brooding, majestic synth-pop of the band’s earlier material, as does gospel choir-aided anthem ‘Slave To Your Love’. Pitch-bent strings yank on the latter song’s core message of hopeless, dangerous love, a sound spookily close to Massive Attack’s trip-hop masterpiece ‘Unfinished Symphony’.
‘Faith’ has much to offer for fans seeking comfort in the idiosyncrasies of Hurts’ grand noir-pop, and also ushers in new musical kinks and tricks. It hasn’t completely reinvented the wheel for Hurts, nor has it allowed them to rest on old habits. Instead, it presents them at their most open – and in age of isolation, there’s much to admire in that.