Hurts: Happiness

Hurts have come so far commercially in the last 10 months, and yet lost none of the substance and power that they produce so beautifully in their music.



Label: Sony
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: 2010-09-06

If anything is certain about Hurts, then it’s that they have more than earned their ‘cool’ status. In late 2009, “Wonderful Life” appeared without warning on YouTube, and became something of a cult hit. The video alone had an authentically Gothic, New Romantic feel to it, and the song had more in common with new wave synthpop of the early '80s -- the essence of Joy Division, but the melodic sense of the Human League. However, when listening to the message, specifically that lyric: “Don’t let go. Never give up, it’s such a wonderful life," it was clear this was a song with no typical New Romantic tale of melancholy. Despite the solemn faces of the band themselves, this was a song about hope and belief in love and, yes, life. Melodically haunting, “Wonderful Life” remains a quintessential example of a perfect pop song, even more intriguing because it came out of nowhere.

And yet for months, the band remained a mystery, frustratingly so, with only a YouTube account and sparse MySpace page to go by. And then all of a sudden, Hurts were signed, and along came “Better Than Love”, a much more commercial prospect than the dark and evocative “Wonderful Life”. Surrounded by the buzz of promotion, given a slot of the NME Radar tour, and now all of a sudden releasing a full length album, Hurts have certainly hit the big time, but in the process lost whatever mystery they had surrounding them a few months back. The question is: does the music still warrant the hype?

The truth is that it never warranted hype to begin with. Hurts write dramatic power ballads that the likes of Shakespeare’s Sister and Annie Lennox would have been fond of in the early '90s. They are hardly synthpop by the modern day ‘La Roux’ definition. They also have no indie credibility, they don’t sing in metaphor or try to accentuate their vocals; they sing simple lyrical messages of love, pain and yearning that most pop acts could not deliver sincerely if they tried. This is not ‘cool’ music by the definition of current trends, and is certainly not music that fits in alongside the chirpy indie and edgy electro pop that reigns the airways of late.

As a result, by my definition, Hurts have probably released the ‘coolest’ album of the year. Now their cult status has been stripped from them, Happiness could not be less pretentious if it tried. Singer Theo Hutchcraft’s voice is dramatic but elegant and carries each melody with a sense of purpose. His delivery is calm and composed, but he lets the words he has written speak for themselves; there’s no ambiguity in these words. “Stay” is jaw-droppingly arresting in its lyrical honesty and, as with “Wonderful Life”, perfectly formed and poignantly expressed, and in fact, there isn’t one track on the record that doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve.

Most of the tracks here follow the slow-paced confessional mould laid down by “Stay”, and although none quite reach the emotional peak of that track, “Illuminated” is epic and windswept and conjures up images of silent desperation in the pouring rain, and “Unspoken” is defiant and anthemic, backed by a sweeping string section rising to its final challenge. It might seem clichéd to use such metaphors, but Hurts’ candid delivery of its messages warrants a little creative description.

The uptempo synthpop of single “Better Than Love” is only retraced once, in the New Order-esque “Sunday” which is gleefully era-authentic and probably the nearest thing to a chart-friendly hit here. The two provide welcome break from the heavy emoting of the balladry, but despite the intense emotional baggage, such is the divine simplicity of the music on Happiness that sitting in a corner crying and punching the air for 48 minutes seems a perfectly viable option.

Of course, the downside of releasing such defiantly simplistic music is predictable: This will not be a popular and much liked record. Its detractors will label it repetitive, dull and melodramatic. Hurts’ fanbase will be dedicated, but select, and probably the same crowd that fell in love with “Wonderful Life” in the first place. But what unquestionably makes Hurts the coolest band of the moment is that they won’t change themselves for anyone. They have come so far commercially in the last 10 months, and yet lost none of the substance and power that they produce so beautifully in their music. Thus, because of this dedication to their art, no matter how the band does commercially from here on in, they will always have the last laugh. Although don’t expect them to crack a smile.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.