There is an unwritten rule to indie pop: it must come from a broken heart. And the Britpop band Hefner capitalizes on this, putting out one of the most amazing pop records in the past few years. The Fidelity Wars is a classic breakup album, every song screaming to be put on a mix tape for the next girl or guy to come around. Hey, it will show him or her how vulnerable and sensitive you are, possibly leading to something more lucrative (wink wink) than discussing the most recent Promise Ring album.
Lead singer Darren Haymen takes all his past pain and suffering and thrusts it right into the music. The result is 11 incredibly catchy depictions of heartache-causing, sleepless, smoke-filled nights, crumpled bed sheets, and empty vodka bottles. The album is best appreciated under the same conditions (unless being utilized to create the next sleepless night). The Fidelity Wars is an intimate confession of romantic disintegration, never yielding, and thoroughly intense, relaying each lie and betrayal.
Although each song focuses on different scenarios, the outcome remains the same: Haymen buries himself under the rubble of his self-loathing, doubt, and weakness. "The Weight of the Stars" revolves around Haymen both reveling and regretting a one-night stand, "My heart was led by her pale skinny legs to the mattress in her room / No matter what my friends say there's no rhyme or reason / I know I did something wrong." The lyrics are sung over a cheerfully bouncing bass and a twangy slide guitar.
In another song, "Fat Kelly's Teeth", Haymen describes the paradox of infidelity. Haymen justifies his reason for cheating, "The spaces between her cruelest insults / Is where I stop being faithful", absolving himself of guilt in the affair, "And as she pulled me to the floor / I don't feel so guilty / My trousers are below my knees / And her skirt above her waist", ultimately succumbing to his guilt, "And I always forget / How quick the rot sets / And now the sun sets / I must go home / I don't feel regretful / I don't feel ungrateful / Even though I'm unfaithful / I don't feel so bad." The music sounds like a solemn, defeated English hymn with slowly strummed guitars and a lazy beat. Haymen initially invokes disgust, later manipulating it into sympathy, all in the span of five minutes. This is masterful pop music.
Other songs dabble in stalled relationships "The Hymn for the Cigarettes", faded relationships remembered through booze "The Hymn of the Alcohol", and desperate pleas for the return of a lost love "I Love Only You", which includes one of my all-time favorite lines, "Who gave you the right to bruise my little heart / You tore it right apart / I was saving it for art." The music ranges from slow and solemn guitars to driving bass and angry distortion. Yet, it still manages to keep the optimistic sound inherent to pop music. While Haymen laments his pain, you're dancing around to the beat. And, at the same time, Haymen can still manage to be a bit cheeky.
"May God Protect Your Home" is an abnormality on the album. The song removes the album from the "battle of the sexes" motif assigned to it. Never mind that it involves a depiction of sex where any woman will do. Haymen doesn't care about the act of sex itself. Instead, he finds pleasure on the physical representation of the person in bed with him. For Haymen, the act of sex is just that: an act. He places emotion above the act, finding pleasure in the fact that he is wanted outside of his body as opposed to simply wanting a body, "And where did you get to smell so sweet? / Is that sweetness for me?" Yet, Haymen knows he won't be wanted for long, "And where did I find these eyes that I found? / They will surely let me down." He resigns himself to the fact that, no matter the person in his bed, he will eventually return to nicotine soaked nights laced with shots from the flask.
Haymen holds an almost adolescent fascination with the female body, singing, with complete seriousness, the funniest line on the album "And my hand starts to move down your stomach and in between those thighs / To a soft warm place I call home / And may god protect your home." For Haymen, sex is not important. The warmth of the person next to him -- the warmth of a woman -- is the most important thing. But this doesn't make him a misogynist, nor does it form a conflict between genders. The woman is not viewed as a tool, or as a depiction of the male gaze. She is viewed as a human on with the same level of desire. Instead of being viewed as a sexual vessel, she is viewed as a sexual being existing on the same level of emotion as Haymen, thus allowing Haymen to find pleasure in this leveling. Yes, Haymen garners this pleasure in the fact that the warm body is a woman. But, as opposed to the depiction of women in mainstream music, where women are an agent of frustration and negative emotion, Hefner depicts women as equal players in relationships. He is optimistic, knowing that he will, in fact, be wanted. Yet, he also recognizes that his downfall comes from his own neurotic self-loathing and paranoia, not from the woman. Ironically, the vulnerability and self -- loathing that make The Fidelity Wars so amazing also doom Haymen's relationships. I want to hug him.
Hefner has been compared to fellow UK popsters Belle and Sebastian. Whereas the latter depicts depressing, angst-ridden topics through jangly pop tunes, Hefner depicts the complex and confusing realm of relationships through more energetic pop. Sure, it's depressing and riddled with heartache; and sure, you want to tell Haymen to get over himself. But, I have a feeling we've all been here before. And, at one time or another, we'll be here again. Hefner only makes it sound good.