en: Happiness (Hurts album) [info]
There's the monochrome cover shot, the duo wearing suits and haughty scowls; above it, a one-word title that seems arch, even ironic, in this context; and then, there's the presence of Kylie Minogue. Tonight, Matthew, are Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson the Pet Shop Boys, actually?
Well, not quite. There are moments throughout, a synth line here or a drum beat there, when Neil and Chris could have climbed into the stereo. But the same could be said of any number of melancholy 80s popstrells who weren't averse to DX7 chordage and were suspicious of real percussion. Happiness is almost as retro as Roland Rat in a Frankie t-shirt eating a Wispa, but far, far more elegant.
If there's one epithet to describe this album, it's "grandiose". No opportunity is spared to slip in a choir (in the Black-esque opener Silver Lining they could be rehearsing Mozart's Requiem) or a chorus that demands a flame thrower. Which, when the result is current single Wonderful Life, or their debut Better Than Love, which should be subtitled "not to mention sex, fine wines, and much of the charts this week", is a very good idea indeed. The latter, with its frantically arpeggiating keyboards and Tears for Fears bassline, plus enough drama to have its own show and more pomp than Elgar on loop, should, by rights, have done a Bryan Adams instead of languishing at number 50.
But while theatricality and a brooding demeanour also make Sunday, a power-dressed Europop floor-filler that channels early Depeche Mode and the PSB, and Stay (think rain and gospel singers) hits in waiting, they aren't quick fixes for ropey writing. "So stay with me Evelyn / Don't leave me with the medicine / In the night" (Evelyn) might make you giggle more with a triumphal new romantic orchestra surging behind it, but it's unlikely that's what the Manchester boys intended. Kylie, meanwhile, has grounds to take offence, having been given the turgid Devotion - surely a lost Bosnia & Herzegovina Eurovision entry - to guest on.
Style and gravitas are all very well - if Hurts could also have been consistent with the substance, Happiness would have trounced its 80s counterparts and many of its contemporaries, too.
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