Before their third studio album, Surrender, you’d be forgiven for thinking synthpop duo Hurts had fallen through a time rift in the 80s and emerged, hands poised over the keyboard, into the 21st century. With their clear Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears influences and aesthetics, Hurts have forged a cult following across all ages; those nostalgic for the New Wave era and those born a decade afterwards alike. ‘Surrender’, however, marks a move away from their familiar-yet-unique electronic sound, leaving it close to being filed under ‘just-another-generic-album’.
Surrender’s move away from individuality could be down to lead singer Theo Hutchcraft’s commercial triumph as lead vocals on Calvin Harris’ ‘Under Control’. The club-centric, repetitive dance anthem marked Theo’s first number one, success-wise peaking higher than any of Hurts best work. Inevitably, many tracks seem to be an attempt to appeal to the same audience who would recognize Hutchcraft’s distinct tones from the track, ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ and ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ prime examples. Featuring generic fast beats and dull repetitive lyrics, the tracks could just as well be found on any club album.
Some songs, however, mark a refreshing reminder of older material – for example ‘Rolling Stone’ returns to the narrative style of their biggest hit ‘Wonderful Life’. It tells the emotive story of a runaway teen escaping an alcoholic father, plucked electronic violins taking center stage before delving into Hurts’ electronic beat style. Theo practically purrs some of the lines in the verse and chants others in the chorus. His voice is like a Swiss army knife – it can be used for every style and tempo of music that Hurts turn their hand to on this album, whether it be warbling to match the beat on the dance tunes, going up three octaves for the impossibly high ‘I Wish’, or drawling seductively along to the more lyrical-centered songs.
“Featuring generic fast beats and dull repetitive lyrics, the tracks could just as well be found on any club album”
However, ‘Lights’ is arguably the best song of the album; an electronic replica of Oliver Cheatham’s ‘Get Down Saturday Night’ with a slowed beat and impossibly catchy hook. Merging the two very different 80s styles of Boogie and New wave shouldn’t work, but it really does. Similarly, ‘Weight of the World’ is another stand-out track. Kicking off with rhythmic piano strokes, the song has a distinctly Bond-esque quality – its stylish and dramatic quality easily conjuring images of Daniel Craig straightening his tie after an intense fight scene.
The frustrating thing about Surrender is that it could be so much better. When done right, the songs are a tour de force, strengthening the already-robust Hurts brand of experimental synthpop. When less successful, songs are mediocre and forgettable, which unfortunately is a label that can be applied to most of the songs on this album. Try as it might, Surrender just still can’t manage to step out of the gigantic shadow created by their debut album five years ago.
Freya is currently listening to ‘Outgrow’ by Lewis Watson.
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.