I feel like I should open this review of Exile, the second album by electro duo Hurts, with something of a disclaimer, in the name of journalistic integrity and all that. I am incredibly, incorrigibly biased when it comes to this band. Their debut album Happiness (2010) was the soundtrack to my life for a full year after it was released, and I’ve been awaiting its follow-up with bated breath ever since.
So was it worth the wait?
For my fellow fans of the first album, there’s plenty to like here. The track listing on the Deluxe Edition is longer than on Happiness, making for an extended, near-rapturous listening experience. Adam Anderson’s sound production and Theo Hutchcraft’s signature vocals are as moving and evocative as they’ve ever been, especially in ‘Sandman’, ‘Blind’, and lead single ‘Miracle’. But Exile also offers a fantastic Hurts 101 to newcomers, introducing novice listeners to the heart of darkness that lies at the centre of every track. Hurts don’t give us love songs in the traditional, saccharine sense; they write eerie and unsettling ballads about envy and heartbreak, the agony as well as the ecstasy.
There is always the risk, when listening to a voice and style as distinctive as this group, that sooner or later all tracks will blend into one. (I love you, Mumford & Sons, but you know you’re more than a little guilty). Not so here. The trademark Hurts sound remains; for instance, ‘Somebody To Die For’ recalls the fractured, plaintive crooning of ‘Unspoken’, but there is also more experimentation in Exile. Hutchcraft and Anderson openly channel their synth-pop forebears Depeche Mode in ‘Cupid’ and ‘Mercy’, and we get a gospel choir in ‘Help’, a song from the album’s final act.
In addition to upping the stylistic ante, Exile is even more theatrical in its execution than Happiness, from the apocalyptic ‘Miracle’ to the incredibly dark ‘The Road’, which the band admitted was influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s infamously bleak novel of the same name. If I have one criticism of the Deluxe Edition of the album, it’s that this dramatic tension doesn’t quite build to the explosive climax that the early tracks imply is coming; instead, the bonus track and closing entry ‘Guilt’ is considerably more downbeat and reflective, serving as an epilogue to follow the highs of ‘Help’ and ‘Heaven’.
It would be utterly pointless for me to give Exile marks out of ten, as that would speak to a modicum of objectivity. All I can say is that if you are already a fan of Hurts, you will not be disappointed. And if you’re not already a fan… well, you should be.
And because I started this review with a confession of my bias, I’m sure you’ll not be shocked in the slightest when I end it with the most hyperbolic of statements. Not only are Hurts the heir apparent to Depeche Mode, but I honestly believe they also have the potential to rival stadium fillers like Muse, and who knows – maybe even one day steal mainstream sweetheart Adele’s crown as the nation’s favourite chronicler of heartbreak.