[30 August 2005]
This is good. There is a school of thought that says the writer should always conceal his argument, allowing instead for it to develop over a course of paragraphs or pages. The reason convention has been dispensed with here is because there is a sense of this being the case on Hard-Fi’s Cash Machine EP. From the start, and indeed throughout, we are given the sound of something which has taken stock of what has created it, like a child looking at his parents, and said “No, I am going to make something different”. In this simile the child is aware of something older having led to his creation but there is also something more recent to have led to his crisis. With Hard-Fi, they have taken a look at what has come before them Stones, Specials and Kasabian and decided that they want to change it to reflect their own idealism.
Although an EP, and capable of offering only a glimpse of the band’s work, this record makes apparent the desire of a band to dispense with the current trend of sounding like either The Smiths or Velvet Underground, deciding instead to sound like something with a tinkle of ingenuity. On the first track, “Cash Machine”, the pressing of the play button is shortly followed by a noise not dissimilar to that which you would associate with Chemical Brothers or Kasabian. In fact, until the vocals enter, this track sounds so much like Kasabian that you could be listening to a tribute band. But you aren’t listening to a tribute band. You’re listening to a band that wants attention for what it can do, not what others have done.
This is evident in their lyrics too, with their social consciousness awake and thriving. “I’m working for the cash machine”, sings Richard Archer as he suggests that the veritable bed of roses suggested by Chris Martin is, in fact, a naïve and utopian view. Instead, Archer tells the listener that life’s rich tapestry is not woven with gold thread. Growing up in Staines has given him a good grasp of this. He sings about the perils of dodging train fares and the dangers of being a young father. The protagonist in Archer’s song is Silas Marner without the character reformation. The rejection of paternal responsibility is equated to economics: “I can’t afford to be a daddy so I leave tonight”. As adaptation is a theme of this record, the outro sees Archer repeating a contemporary version of the traditional English ditty, “There’s a Hole in My Bucket”. In keeping with the economic theme, we hear “there’s a hole in my pocket, my pocket” repeated. Archer has had a look at what has preceded him and adapted it to match his own idealism.
The band’s sound is their opportunity to get noticed. There’s an overt desire to sound both like and unlike the bands that have treaded the boards of some of London’s most famous venues. This is most striking in the insightful cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Gone is the guitar through the octave pedal, to be replaced by that rampant rhythm section. There’s a hidden agenda here, of course; by using the bass guitar the band contrasts itself with the track’s original performers—the bass-less White Stripes. The drumming is a marked improvement on that of Meg White but there is more to be derived from Hard-Fi’s recording of this track. The vocals are performed through a megaphone, in so doing there is a recurrence of the theme of announcing oneself. More simply, the subtext of this cover is, “Here we are. We’re going to be similar but we’re going to challenge the similarities as much as we can.” Why else take a world famous song and make it recognisable by only its title and the lyrics? I am not exaggerating here, there is little beyond the lyrics that reminds the listener of the original. The solo is replaced by something far subtler, the power chord chorus replaced by a more muted chord sequence. That is to say, guitar chords remain but they are not so vital as they are when Jack White does it. Hard-Fi makes this track their own because it has to be. The record makes so much of defying convention while veering as close to it as it possibly can that to renege on it with a cover would be a disappointment. Hard-Fi clearly don’t want to disappoint.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/hardfi-cashmachine/