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Once Upon A Time In The West

To paraphrase Jarvis, you’ve got to wonder what exactly Hard-Fi are going to do for an encore – cos this is hardcore.

Rating: 8 / 10

Paul Nolan, 21 Sep 2007

There seems to have been as much discussion about the cover of this album as about the music, and understandably so – it is a pretty bold move for a major band. While I admire Hard Fi’s attempt to do something different, I do find the sleeve slightly Spinal Tap and I don’t think it really works but, hey, it’s their party and they’ll have no cover art if they want to.

Anyway, the music. Hard Fi exploded onto the scene a couple of years ago with their debut album Stars Of CCTV, a vividly detailed depiction of suburban youth culture which, with its street poetry and gritty realism, was in many ways a rock equivalent of The Streets’ Original Pirate Material. They came armed with at least one scorching single in ‘Hard To Beat’ (their performance of which in The Ambassador last year was one of my live highlights of 2006) and, to be honest, I found them a much more interesting prospect than either Kaiser Chiefs or Arctic Monkeys.

Frontman and songwriter Richard Archer has a real knack for catchy melodies and Once Upon A Time In The West kicks off in fine style with two anthemic rockers, ‘Suburban Knights’ and ‘I Shall Overcome’. Archer, both of whose parents have died within the last five years, has stated that Once Upon A Time… is a darker affair than the band’s exuberant debut and, as the album unfolds, this proves to be a fairly accurate assessment.

You can’t judge a book by its cover but, just occasionally, you can judge an album by its song titles and the names hear speak volumes; ‘Watch Me Fall Apart’, ‘Help Me Please’, ‘Can’t Get Along (Without You)’. As bleak as the album sometimes threatens to get, the band never falter and the music remains consistently imaginative and engaging. Unfortunately, however, Archer is a little less sure footed when he switches the lyrical focus from personal grief to global turmoil and the political observations in his lyrics are at times rather hackneyed.

The sentiment in a song such as ‘We Need Love’ is certainly admirable but Archer is straining a bit too hard to define the zeitgeist. Still, the album ends strongly with ‘The King’, a stark tale about a character whose dreams have been cruelly dashed. To paraphrase Jarvis, you’ve got to wonder what exactly Hard Fi are going to do for an encore – cos this is hardcore.

Rating: 8 / 10
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