One of Britain’s premier 80s revivalists, Hurts’ 2010 debut, Happiness, was perhaps the only record where the polished synth-rock of A-ha, the glossy blue-eyed soul of Johnny Hates Jazz and the gothic balladry of Sisters of Mercy appeared to be inspirations of equal measure. However, three years on from conquering virtually the whole of Europe, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson have leaned far more towards the latter much darker reference point on their long-awaited sophomore, Exile.
Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s Crash, the Violator-era Depeche Mode homage of “The Road” lives up to the duo’s intentions of creating the bleakest song of their career, its doom-laden sound ending in a suitably sinister feedback-drenched wall of noise.
Echoing the emphatic dubstep-tinged rock of Alex Clare’s Microsoft-assisted hit, “Too Close,” “Mercy” sounds just as ominous with its closing post-apocalyptic horror vibes, as does the unsettling opening title track, a menacing mini rock-opera which almost makes Muse appear the bastions of restraint. Meanwhile, “Sandman” is as creepy as it is utterly bizarre, fusing the beats of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” with grimy synths, burst of brass and whistles and even a children’s choir.
You have to admire Hurts for simply refusing to make Happiness 2.0. But Exile only really excels when it begins to throw in a bit of light with the overwhelming shade, as on bombastic lead single “Miracle,” a chest-beating stadium anthem which recalls Simple Minds in their pompous prime. “Only You” also continues the vintage Scottish new-wave theme with a riff borrowed wholesale from Fiction Factory’s “Feels Like Heaven,” while the gorgeously brooding balladry of “The Crow” proves that The xx aren’t the only act who can expand upon the shimmering Americana of Chris Isaak with aplomb.
Exile undeniably loses its way towards its climax, particularly on “Somebody To Die For,” which contains the kind of schmaltzy string/piano arrangement that even a US soap opera would turn down for being too melodramatic. But while Hurts’ second offering may alienate some of those who became so enamoured with their first, its bold ambition largely pays off.