Hurts – singer Theo Hutchcraft and synthesist Adam Anderson – are one of the UK’s most exciting pop acts, and since the late 2000s they’ve been releasing emotive, moody, catchy pop songs that can simultaneously be expressively depressive and soaringly beautiful. However, their second album Exile failed to replicate the excitement and success of their debut Happiness, the latter record’s darker and heavier sonic leanings proving to be just too much of a racket for fans to enjoy.
However, they’re back with a vengeance on self-proclaimed ‘happy’ album Surrender with a pseudo-buoyant album cover to boot: but can the feel-good vibes translate into success for Hutchcraft and Anderson?
Surrender is, from the very instant that the eponymous album opener begins, a much brighter record than its predecessor – the title track is an anthemic call to arms with appropriate gospel leanings, setting the stage for some of Hurts’ sunniest ever songs. Tracks such as the joyous lead single ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, an upbeat banger not dissimilar to Exile bonus track and personal favourite of mine ‘Heaven’, the disco-infused ‘Lights’, the alt-pop standout ‘Why’, and the rousing electronic dance anthem ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ speak to a lighter sensibility, and a focused attempt to eschew some of their too-dark leanings of records past. Just look at ‘Kaleidoscope’ with its impactful drums and Eighties sensibilities, which turn it into a pure pop-flavoured pleasure to listen to.
That isn’t to say that the darkness is completely lost from Hurts’ music now – ‘Rolling Stone’ is a sumptuously dark and dramatic number while ‘Weight of the World’ is chock-full of haunting synthesisers and ‘Wish’ is the year’s most mournful, elegiac and elegant ballad. These touches help keep everything in balance – Hurts’ musical niche should never be wholly sunny nor bleak; they exist in a bittersweet, sometimes hopeful, sometimes melancholic, always dramatic space within modern pop music.
In fact, while the mood seems ineffably lighter on Surrender, the dramatic, cinematic quality of their songs remains the same – ‘Slow’ is a deliriously wonderfully Eighties jam built for a movie, while ‘Wings’ seems tailor-ready to make an appearance soundtracking a CW drama show. Some may find the slower numbers a bit too gushy for them – closer ‘Policewoman’ is gratingly cheesy, for example – but Hurts are nothing if not Eighties pop music at its best and sometimes worst.
This brings us back, strangely, to the distinctive album cover. Hurts’ previous covers have shown them dramatically swathed in sepia or in midnight black, dramatic poses aching for a spot next to a Duran Duran record. On Surrender however, things have changed – they’re moving through a field, a field of bright pink, rose-hued grass; a cover that instantly codes mentally to joy and not to the melancholia the duo are associated with. The vibe of the cover – and of the album as well – is that of the New Romantics (or rather of the New New Romantics); Eighties pop music at its strongest, but with the modern flavours that propel it into the future. This might not be Hurts’ best album ever, but it’s an important stepping stone for the pair – which shows that it’s great to create records when you’re sad, but just as great to create them when you’re happy.