I dislike pop music. The charts are depressing place, and it's seldom anything good comes from them. This wasn't always the case, of course. Many years ago, the charts actually contained decent music, albeit not always to my taste. Then came boybands, autotune and barely comprehensible hip hop influences with ridiculous names. But in this mire of overprocessed, overhyped and overbearing identipop, a gem can occassionally come along.
With last month's release of Arcade Fire's new record, this summer started looking up. And now The Hoosiers, whose debut reached number 1 in the charts back in the heady days of 2007, have released their sophomore effort. Shunning the "me too" attitude of so many current artists, they have dragged their music kicking and screaming back in time to the 80s and early 90s. A simpler time, a time before the internet and media force-feeding of their latest cash cow. But more importantly, a fun time.
The very first thing that struck me when I put on The Illusion Of Safety was that it reminded me very much of the music of my childhood. Not the music of my youth, mind you. Sadly Oasis, Take That (sorry 23inertia) and Destiny's Child were forced upon us at that time. I'm talking about Erasure, Men At Work, Dire Straits, Billy Joel, Bowie and Queen. You know. Good pop bands.
Opening with their most recent single, Choices, the early 90s are very much in evidence. The staccato synths make for a toe tapping beat and the lyrics are easy enough to pick up that you should only need to hear it once. Going straight through into Bumpy Ride, the infectious pop hooks and simple, almost bordering on trite, lyrics make for an upbeat and uplifting chorus. While the beat and melody may not be the most complex, the lyrics don't always match these bubblegum pop wrappers. The influences of The Trick To Life on lyrical themes is more than evident. Love found, love lost, unrequited, painful and ever poignant.
The album seems to slide slowly backward to the 80s as the songs progress. Unlikely Hero and Lovers In My Head remind me of watching Top Of The Pops on our black and white telly. Even the slower, less bouncy tracks like Devil's In The Detail and Sarajevo are heartwarming in a way that is a rarity in commercial music. Sarajevo in particular is a sophisticated, smoothly produced song with political overtones. Think Sunday, Bloody Sunday or Winds Of Change.
The album peaks around track 8 with the stomping, overblown synth-laden behemoth of a song that is Glorious. Like Unlikely Hero before it, I could easily see Scissor Sisters covering it. The layered vocals, 80s style synth-twiddling, the ridiculous beepy hook after every line of the chorus. It's a mindworm of a track, embedding itself in your brain and never letting go. The following track, Made To Measure, is much simpler in production, but is catchy enough to fit perfectly and maintains the energy of the former long enough that there is no feeling of disappointment when it finishes.
Perhaps "peak" is not the right word to describe the placement of Glorious. Instead, it perhaps marks the most frenetic part of the album. The tracks surrounding it are slower, and more reminiscient of The Trick To Life. The final two tracks, the aforementioned Sarajevo and Little Brutes, could have come straight off the earlier album. Overall, the album is well balanced. It's definitely not a front-loader, but it has a distinct slide toward melancholy as it comes to a rather peaceful close, a million miles from the thumping opener. It leaves the listener satisfied that it was worth listening to the end, and makes the whole album feel like it was designed with purpose, not thrown together. Each song fits its place, and having listened to it a few times now (well, couple of dozen) I can't think of a single way to improve the running order, the energy or the sentiment of any of the songs.
The second album is famously the point where the one hit wonders are separated from the bands that are going places. The Hoosiers are going places. And they'll document every step of the way with their addictive, quirky and romantic take on life.