Hard-Fi is the penultimate definition of the cool, up-and-coming must-watch band. They are so indie. They are full of energy. They are reasonably attractive (MTV attractive). They are British. Oh, and they’re on MySpace.
What they don’t have is American notoriety, which makes them even trendier, as everyone enjoys “discovering” the new up-and-comers. After selling out all 500 copies of their 2004 self-released album “Stars of CCTV”, they re-released the album with a major label and went on tour with the usual suspects: Bloc Party, the Bravery and the hundred other carbon-copy derivatives. And so the “small band” formed in 2002 has finally come to the American limelight.
Luckily for Hard-Fi, who ride the coattails of the most recent Arctic Monkeys, mainstream America seems to have a taste for the high-energy post-punk genre. The album is a well marketed and cohesive product, replete with a music video and (unnecessary) acoustic versions of singles. The album also has a feel of thematic progress, starting with rebel angst in the crunchy “Cash Machine,” moving to closer inspection of emotional and political problems with “Feltham is Singing Out” and concluding with a call for escapism with “Living for the Weekend.”
Unfortunately, the songs are connected not only by the overarching theme of rebellion, but also by an all-too-obvious song formula: opening hook/intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge/solo, chorus, outro. If that weren’t tedious enough, they also painfully recycle their limited repertoire of melodies, most notably in the all-too-similar choruses of “Gotta Reason” and “Living for the Weekend.”
Apparently to break the monotony, and the four-minute song barrier, the band threw in the maudlin piano-trudging ballad “Move On Now.” Despite the enchanting British croon of frontman Richard Archer, the song suffocates from a simple structure, simple piano playing, and a simply unending plea, “Baby, baby/ baby, baby/ I think it’s time we move on now.” After countless repetitions of the basic melody, the song takes a refreshing change with a wailing horn section, which all too quickly fades and the song fails to, well, “move on.”
One of the worst parts of the album is that the banal redundancy and often stagnant musical approach makes it hard to appreciate the few great hits that will make you give thanks to iTunes for the single-song purchase option. The most obvious here would be “Cash Machine”, which is superfluously glorified in three (very similar) different forms on the album. With immediately recognizable “London Calling” influences, the song has a great underlying bass line and cutting distorted guitar for fancy foot moves and club-friendly fist pumping. It’s just a true head-bobbing hit capitulated by a fun sing-along outro.
Taking a mildly different direction is the ska-tastic “Better do Better.” With syncopated drums and slightly reverberating guitars, the stage is set for the beat to drop into the heavy guitar-riffing, drum-crashing chorus. It’s impossible to help falling victim to the emotionally cathartic crash, even when it comes back around, as per the Hives-tested, Futureheads-approved formula. Other 99-cent worthy hits on the album are the more lyrically and vocally mature “Stars of CCTV” and the clappably punkish “Gotta Reason.”
To make the differentiation between a good formulaic song and a bad one is hard, and also highly subjective. Some bands such as Weezer openly acknowledge and base their careers on formula, and do it well (hello American bias?). But despite energetic efforts, intermittent catchiness and great vocals, Hard-Fi is nothing groundbreaking. On that note, another three cheers for iTunes singles, and a shout out to “KJ” on MySpace who thinks Hard-Fi “rawks.”