Hurts, The Ritz, Manchester
Everything Everything, Scala, London
Emotion is always hovering near the severely tailored surface of Eighties-inspired duo Hurts
Sunday 10 October 2010
Something's happening here. Ninety minutes before doors, and there's already a queue outside the Ritz, the appealingly gaudy Mancunian ballroom where Jimmy Savile held court in the real-life Sixties, and DCI Gene Hunt menaced Marc Bolan lookalikes in the fictional Seventies.
And the best thing is, I never saw it coming.
Back in January, the portentousness with which Hurts were presented to the media verged on the comical. With their moody monochrome publicity shots and Roman-lettered logo, it was almost as if Hurts were a font and a filter before they were a pop group. Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, escapees from electro-pop quintet Daggers, had transformed into besuited purveyors of elegant, elegiac pop, pitching themselves as, approximately, a straight Tennant & Lowe: the Het Shop Boys, if you will. And they were unmistakably getting the big push, but it felt doomed. Suave, sombre synth duos? I eat that stuff for breakfast, but I've become accustomed to the rest of the world turning a deaf ear, and I didn't hold out much hope for Hurts. I've rarely been happier about being wrong.
Hurts are Britain's fastest-selling new band of 2010, with (ironically titled) debut album Happiness reaching No 4; they're even bigger abroad, where they've had No 1s in four European countries. That's how they can afford the big double-decker Fastway tour bus. Transit life is over.
What's beautiful about this is that they did it by taking risks. No one will ever get laughed at for sounding like PiL or ESG – the cool bit of the Eighties. Hurts have the audacity to draw upon the uncool arse-end of that decade, the glossy likes of Black, Climie Fisher or Go West, occasionally verging on the soft-focus movie soundtrack stylings of Berlin. There's even a touch of the operatic: "Verona" sounds like Andrea Bocelli's "Con te partirò", and is augmented by an actual divo.
"It's very affected," says a man who genuinely isn't a journalistic construct, before a note has been played or a word sung. And if he means they've paid attention to detail, he's right. Hurts – Adam in a Nehru collar, Theo buttoned to the top – are two seriously sharp-dressed men. Touch them and you'd bleed.
I wonder how they'll fare in the flesh, given the surfeit of slow songs on Happiness: only "Sunday" and "Better Than Love" could ever be termed dancefloor friendly. It isn't a problem: the Hurts live experience cleverly swells from the minimal to the maximal as it goes along, both visually and musically. Theo Hutchcraft is, as well as a raging piece of eye candy and a singer whose voice is forever on the emotion-choked break, a consummate frontman. There are crowd-pleasing references to Belle Vue dogs and defunct club nights and, with reference to the pop goddess they lured into appearing on "Devotion": "Kylie Minogue couldn't make it today. She got stuck on the No 42 from Fallowfield in Rusholme ..." (They compensate for her absence with a cracking, thwacking cover of KM's "Confide in Me".)
In any case, it isn't as though the duo face an uphill struggle with this home-town crowd. I see several Hurts lookalikes (my advice: invest in waistcoats now), and although Happiness has been out only five weeks, everyone knows all the words.
Words which, incidentally, sometimes err on the side of "stuff that happens to rhyme", although that can be deceptive. "I'd rather be lonely than by your side" ("Silver Lining") isn't exactly Westlife material, and the magnificently overwrought "You say goodbye in the pouring rain and I break down as you walk away" sounds like an A-ha video treatment. Best of all is "Wonderful Life", a tale of a suicide attempt on the Severn bridge which I take to be partially inspired by Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers.
Tailoring to die for, and a perpetual tug of war between passion and restraint: Hurts might be the most English band alive.
NME recently attempted to propose a New Manchester Scene, with Hurts at its forefront, even though one need only pace the Northern Quarter to know that there's never been a time when Mancunia hasn't been a prolific production line. Everything Everything have also been nominally included in this fiction, even though one of them's a Kentish lad and one of them's a Geordie. They deserve better.
The Geffen-signed quartet have chopped pop into pieces and reassembled it in new Cubist shapes, with results that are at the same time familiar and strange. On debut album Man Alive, one second you're hearing the tinkling of warm water, the next a sudden spear of ice. Their cut-up collages and concussed disco interludes suggest a British Animal Collective, or perhaps Avalanches, but neither of those comparisons quite fits.
Singer Jonathan Higgs has an airy falsetto reminiscent of Guy Garvey, but he frequently breaks into weird yelps and yodels like a market square ranter, spewing out lyrics that are so far from the familiar clichés of rock'n'roll that they must be hard to memorise, until it all comes into focus for the chorus.
A typical Everything Everything song is like a musical version of the film Inception: layers upon layers of sound, and you're never sure which is the "real", dominant one and which is a soon-vanishing dream. Close your ears and this could be any indie gig: four good-looking young men in front of a few hundred dewy-eyed students. Close your eyes instead, and suddenly Everything Everything makes sense. And, simultaneously, nonsense.
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