Working through Hefner’s The Fidelity Wars is like listening to an ex’s mixtape that has been buried in a shoebox for months, its love songs past their expiration date turned sour This is the kind of music that nearly ruined my adolescent life: smart, solipsistic indie pop that oscillates narrowly between brazen romanticism and broken-hearted desperation.
“The Hymn for the Cigarettes” is a bouncy anthem for headstrong lotharios, and its sardonic ruminations on love and loss set the tone for the rest of the album. The hyperbolic honesty of Darren Hayman’s lyrics reaches its pinnacle in the song’s musical question, “How can she love me if she doesn’t even love the cinema that I love?” A more fragile companion, “The Hymn for Alcohol,” warbles through a dejected lover’s mounting despair: “I know whiskey is his drink / You never drank it with me / But now you drink it with him / I’m not good enough for whiskey / Not good enough for you.” Following the well-trodden path of fellow Brits like The Smiths and The Buzzcocks, biting guitars and terse percussion lift most tunes out of the mire, while piano and pedal steel anesthetize the heartache on “Every Little Gesture” and “The Weight of the Stars.”
Hefner could take a cue from The Smiths’s gender indeterminacy when it comes to the aim of their lyrical barbs; relationships are troped on The Fidelity Wars as battles of the sexes. Nearly every song takes the vantage point of a jilted sensitive boy, and in turn the women are cast as femme fatales-as is the case in “I Love Only You” when our boy mewls, “Who gave you the right to bruise my little heart? / You tore it right apart / I was saving it for art / You knew just what to do.”
While not wholly original in their formula of melancholy lyrics and biting pop, Hefner is hardly a second-rate Britpop cover band. Rather, the familiar sound of their sophomore album is part of an overarching aesthetic that broods on the past for musical and lyrical inspiration. Nostalgia is not without risk in The Fidelity Wars; the solace of memory carries a threat of stagnation. Two former lovers face their fears of being trapped on an emotional hamster wheel on “Don’t Flake Out on Me,” a stirring duet with Gina Birch (The Hangovers, The Raincoats), lamenting, “We will always talk this way / Tired and slightly jaded / We will waste our tears and we’ll be waiting years / For the friends who always promised that they’d phone us.”
Like Nick Hornby’s novel, High Fidelity, to which the album title nods, The Fidelity Wars scrutinizes the inseparable bond of love and pop music embodied in the dual meanings of “fidelity.” Each track is a search for the perfect imperfection-the right muddy lo-fi production; the right tormented relationship. The desperate dysfunction is too much to bear at times, particularly when Hayman’s self-deprecation and whine both hit fever pitch as he declares “I feel beautiful when she says I am beautiful / But she is more beautiful” on “Every Little Gesture.” Otherwise, The Fidelity Wars is a great soundtrack for those times when you feel like feeling bad.