Faced with the ire of the notorious "Bean Counter Gang", Hurts had no choice but to surrender.
They could've been contenders. They should've been contenders. When Manchester duo Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson landed on Planet Pop with 2010's Happiness the world was theirs for the taking. They meant business. This was deluxe pop music for the masses; a 21st century A-ha for the Enormodomes with choruses to be sung from the top of misty mountains with diamond cutting cheekbones and outrageously expensive footwear. A flurry of swanky singles -- "Better Than Love", "Wonderful Life" and the windswept weeper "Stay" -- ensured two million copies of Happiness were nail gunned to the Yoof's hearts and yes, they were massive in Germany. Darn, even their remixes were touched by the hands of gods. Mantronix! Arthur Baker!! Frankie Knuckles!!! Hurts had arrived.
But then it all went a bit 'Pete Tong'. Hurts decided their next opus, 2013's Exile, should be about "Sex and death", have JG Ballard and Cormac McCarthy references and sound like a mid-to-late-'80s Depeche Mode album. A bit dark, a bit pervy. The sleeve would be seriously black and it would have Elton John on it, obviously. But despite its general "Pretty Ruddy Good" status the honeymoon was over. Exile's biggest UK single "Miracle" peaked at a grim number 120 before Hutchcraft almost lost an eye filming the video for its follow-up entitled -- Zoiks! -- "Blind". Then the tastemakers at BBC Radio 1 very publicly and ungallantly dumped the duo via Twitter. Hurts had the last laugh though when later that year they bagged a shiny number one single, albeit as a guest spot on one of Calvin Harris' dodgier electro-bangers.
There's a lot riding on Surrender then. "A bold and brilliant pop record" is Hurts' (and likely Sony's) goal. It's split equally between bootyshakers and ballads, contains a smorgasbord of loopy lyrics (Hello "Policewoman") and mostly adheres to the three-and-a-half minute pure pop rule. The fanciest alchemists in pop, Ariel (Haim, Brandon Flowers) Rechtshaid and Stuart (PSB, Madge) Price are on knob-twiddling duties. It's got gorgeous pink artwork. What could possibly go wrong?
Well tragically, and bafflingly, there are just four 'good-to-great' songs on Surrender. After tossing aside a promising fifth via the one-minute title track we get our first good track and the world is full of promise. "Some Kind of Heaven" may've bombed, yes even in Germany, but it's classic Hurts. It's marvelously melodramatic, fragrantly flamboyant and has some fab "Do do do do" bits for the kids to sing. Its DNA is 70 percent Florence & The Machine's version of "You Got the Love" and 30 percent Coldplay's "Clocks". Thus it is ace. "There's a choir of angels deep inside my lungs", cries Hutchcraft possibly whilst theatrically illuminated by lightning à la Shawshank Redemption. Later the rave monster "Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us" parties like it's the last night on Earth. It's 'EDM by numbers' perhaps but it bounces almost as high as Rihanna and bezzie mate Calvin's mighty "We Found Love" so party on dudes and, y'know, watch out for that D-R-O-P.
Recent single "Lights" also suggested brighter things for Surrender. It struts like one of the Bee Gees' swaggering 'dancer romancers'. Funky bass and brass, a mirrorball, one sparkly white suit and a dose of night fever, "Turn up the lights / I just wanna see you dancing". Sch-moove. Surrender's best in show though is "Slow". A simmering saucepot ballad to rival "Stay". It lies sprawled out in soft focus on a love rug infront of a blazing log fire wrapped in a synthy haze of champagne and candles. "What you’re doing here is murder / When you whip your body slow". It seduces with a spinetingling falsetto and will likely be the highlight of the soundtrack to 50 Shades of Grey Part Deux: The Second Coming. Although the greasy "All I can think when you take off your mink" crushes the ambience and surely warrants a phonecall to PETA.
It's sad then that the remaining half of Surrender is so plain mundane and riddled with cliché, half-baked tunes and box-ticking dilution. "Why" arrives dressed in the dodgy folk-rave clobber that was popular three years ago. Cue the stomping floor tom, stop-start acoustics, uplifting chorus, goofy vocoder breakdown and much cringeworthy pondering "If this is love then why does it hurt so bad?". Why, indeed. Elsewhere the flouncy "Kaleidoscope" floats by like a faceless Kylie album track and includes the Zoolander-ish howler "In this neon jungle you fed my hunger". Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, damn it, and should be heartily serenaded, but the brooding "Rolling Stone" goes a cheese too far into the realm of the Stinking Bishop. Picture '80s muppets Bros reimagining Shakespeare to the tune of Jacko's "Dirty Diana" and you're not far off. "In fair Verona where we lay our scene / Juliet is on her knees", it begins before the chucklesome "She danced the go-go for the bourgeoisie". There's even a pained "axe" riff. It's a big bowl of wrong.
The worst offenders though are the grand finale ballads "Wings" and "Wish" which sound like they were crafted within Simon Cowell's Satanic Subterranea. The woefully wet "Wings"' lyrics were surely ripped from a Hallmark card too, "There's a hole in my parachute as big as your heart". It's aching to be accompanied by a slo-mo montage of Hurts' "Journey So Far" before a poker faced Cowell finally cracks a shit-eating grin and nods approvingly, "You guys smashed it". Cue the confetti bomb and the lobotomised audience going berserk. Not good. "Wish" is no better. A phony postcard of Richard Curtis' Britishness ("Piccadilly station / Camberwell Road / Whitechapel") and a grisly attempt to tap into that Adele "Someone Like You" / Sam Smith "Stay With Me" goldmine that's perennially popular at funerals, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Hurts we're not angry just disappointed. Okay maybe a bit angry.
Surrender hurts. Whilst there are flashes of the burning ambitions of yore too much here is bland, formulaic and depressingly dull. The lukewarm response to the confidently woven Exile has clipped Hurts' wings, making Surrender feel like a once-strong contender for the crown dropping their sword and falling in line. Surely they understand the worst thing you can be in pop is just another face in the crowd?