POP HAS long served as a refuge for geeks and sexual inadequates all whinging about how they can't get girls. With the exception perhaps of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey it can get pretty tiresome. Happily, Hefner are another exception since their singer and songwriter, Darren Hayman, has a disarmingly fresh take on dysfunction. Just to hear his skewed melodies and insistent wail isn't to listen hard enough.
As the songs reveal, his hang-ups are less to do with inexperience and more concerned with disappointment that follows sex. Bittersweet lyrics catalogue love, loss and sexual misadventure with forensic detail: Hayman's words move abruptly between self-deprecation and cruelty. "I still feel disappointed that her hips are that wide/But I still feel lonely and screwed up inside" he says in "I Took Her For Granted". It's not all negative though - "May God Protect Your Home" is a shameless ode to the vagina.
Mind you, at first glance it is hard to believe that the enervated Hayman has ever got beyond the holding hands stage. His are not the affectations of a pop star nerd; he's the genuine article. When a girl climbs up on to the stage and gyrates lasciviously behind him, he seems to be praying for the ground to swallow him up. "I thought about calling for security," he stammers diffidently after she is removed.
Conversely, his songs are more potent played live than on record. The lyrics seem smarter than ever, cleverly constructed yarns that prompt nods of recognition within the crowd. "How can she love me if she doesn't even like the cinema that I love?" he opines on "The Hymn For The Cigarettes". There are numerous gems like this buried in Hefner's songs; sentiments that are often thought but rarely voiced out loud. The atmosphere remains good-natured despite the lyrical rancour - Hayman seems positively jovial by his standards. The band may seem destined for the fringes of stardom but an army of devoted fans sing along with every word. Dysfunction has never been so much fun.
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