Hurts - Happiness

Album cover
Hurts
Happiness
Hurts - Happiness Review rating:
4
User rating:
Average: 4.8 (12 votes)

Watch: "Wonderful Life"

Listen: "Sunday"

There are two things you need to know about Hurts before you check them out (and you should): they are an electronic/anthemic pop duo from the world's one and only Manchester, UK; and they are obsessed with the 80's. Note the word "anthemic." This part is very important. Much of the music of the 80's grasped at a certain huge sound that is distinctly from that decade. One listen to U2's early albums, one listen to Bon Jovi, one listen to David Bowie, Foreigner, Tears For Fears, or especially Journey, and you will know this sound. It is the greatest artifact of the 80's, something that many bands since have strived to reproduce, particularly the ones formed by the teenagers of the 80's.

While many of these fail miserably, occasionally a band emerges who grasps that je ne sais quoi. Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson are determined to resurrect some sort of all-encompassing grandeur, and hell, they seem to have done it with their innate sense of pop timing and melody. From the very first track - "Silver Lining" - the duo mixes The Joshua Tree with Slippery When Wet effectively. Stealing U2's soaring vocals (without the bombastic mannerisms of Bono) and synthpop undertones while making power ballads worthy of Bon Jovi isn't an easy task, and on first listen, it may seem to be too organized, too ostentatious, too pompous. A bass choir (!) lends a punch to the closing moments of "Silver Lining;" and on Hurts' first single, "Wonderful Life," electronic beats and synthesized notes that reflect and enhance Hutchcraft's vocals seem to mirror the modern dance in the song's video. This is pretentious music; there is no other description quite as apt.

And perhaps that will turn off listeners faster than a liberal turns off Fox News. But many of us who have a soft spot for grandiloquence will keep on listening. And we are in for a treat. Gorgeous strings complement nostalgia and heartache of "Sunday" perfectly; "Better Than Love" throbs with power as Hutchcraft emotively sings of how a midnight's lonely drive down barren roads might indeed feel "better than love." Continuing on, "Stay" echoes Toto's hits, just as "Blood, Tears & Gold" might be the synthpop equivalent of Matchbox Twenty or Lifehouse.  The 80's even make a personal appearance on Happiness: the one and only Kylie Minogue, British dance pop embodied, guest stars on the ballad "Devotion."

It is all sublimely, deliciously reminiscent of the 80's, but there is something else at work here too: the indie/electronic influences that Hurts has taken from the current British music scene. They elevate Happiness from middle-of-the-road nostalgia to pop glory, a veritable Greatest Hits release encompassed in a debut album. And nowhere is that more apparent than the final track, "The Water," which sounds like the swan song to a career. There are soaring melodies, gentle piano parts, and strings that will make your soul quiver if you have a shred of humanity in you. Hutchcraft ends the song with a simple yet universal sentiment: "I wish that I was stronger/ I'd separate the waves/ Not just let the water take me away."

"The Water" is possibly one of the most beautiful and grandly minimalist pieces ever created, and it is a fitting end to Happiness. Hurts searches through all of our - well, hurts - to find where some shreds of happiness might be hiding, and at the end they find their answer. If we don't let the water take us away, we can see that happiness is always within grasping distance, as long as we take control over our own lives.

1. Silver Lining
2. Wonderful Life
3. Blood, Tears & Gold
4. Sunday
5. Stay
6. Illuminated
7. Evelyn
8. Better Than Love
9. Devotion (feat. Kylie Minogue)
10. Unspoken
11. The Water

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