Between 2013 and 2015, Australian musician Nick Murphy had several hits and a number one album under the name Chet Faker. Then he dropped the moniker and began recording under his given name. In 2020, driven by a pandemic and his father’s death, Murphy revived Chet Faker to “do a small something to give people some joy”. Did he succeed?
Based on Hotel Surrender, yes and no. The album is the very definition of laid-back, stoned-out slacker pop. It has no particular destination and is in absolutely no hurry to get there. All ten songs run at the same midtempo pace, with mildly funky backing and steady trap rhythms. If there is a joy to be had, it’s in the unflappable nature of the songs resulting from Murphy’s tasteful, unencumbered production. Hotel Surrender is an excellent soundtrack for lazing away on the patio or the water with an IPA. It would sound most excellent, emanating from a festival stage between frantic dubstep sets. But one could be forgiven for thinking it was one song on a “repeat” loop.
The best thing about this homogeneity is there are no bad songs. Everything is at the least inoffensive if not agreeable. The first half of the album gets more favorable marks because the listener has yet to grow weary. Opener “Oh Me Oh My” sounds relatively energetic, with something of a rousing chorus, melodramatic R&B strings, and what sounds like a didgeridoo wobbling in the background. “Low” has a spaced-out intro that spontaneously breaks out into another catchy chorus. Naturally, there’s a track called “Get High”, with a sputtering antique drum machine that gives the song a woozy There’s a Riot Goin’ On feel. So far, so groovy.
But Hotel Surrender quickly gets stuck in a groove. It never deviates, and as the songs roll on, it seems like the spaces between thudding electronic snare hits become greater and greater. Some tracks, such as “Peace of Mind” and “I Must Be Stupid”, are more somber and reflective. Some, like “It’s Not You” and “So Long So Lonely”, have a more upbeat, slightly jazzy feel akin to Steely Dan. The Dan always had biting humor and sarcasm to balance their uber-mannered music. Murphy gets in an occasional nerdy quip such as the Star Trek-referencing “I wanna live long and prosper”. His reflections mostly fail to transcend the “head in the clouds / feet off the ground” variety.
Quite possibly, this is all the point. If Murphy envisions the Chet Faker alias as a less complex, more fun-loving foil to the material he puts out under his real name, he has succeeded. Despite the difficult circumstances surrounding its creation, Hotel Surrender is, if nothing else, an oasis of poised self-awareness in a world that is often running scared these days. In his spoken-word musings that open the album, Murphy muses, “Music does something…I just don’t know what it does. Just accept it as the sky is blue.” That’s the surrender he’s talking about. Really, there are far worse ways to waive the white flag than chilling with Chet Faker for an afternoon.