Things looked promising in 2010 for electro-pop fans when Hurts’ early singles, Wonderful Life and Better Than Love, easily matched the quality of their well-cut suits.
Singer Theo Hutchcraft and keyboardist Adam Anderson arrived fully formed. But electro understatement was ultimately abandoned for theatrical ornamentations, with overblown ballads taking cues from Ultravox's Vienna rather than Tainted Love.
But Exile occupies a murkier world than Hurts’ debut album, Happiness. Operatic leanings have been replaced by Sandman’s chanting, recalling Red Box’s 1986 hit, For America.
Said track’s industrial rock claustrophobia gives way to some surprising beauty. But the fraught Blind quickly returns to familiar Hurts’ territory. It’s so dramatic you can hear the dry ice.
Admirable dedication to touring and promotion has established a fanbase unlikely to be put off by Exile’s po-faced title track. And anthemic single Miracle, reminiscent of Depeche Mode via Coldplay’s Paradise, is likely to appeal to all.
Only You, the sort of song their early days promised, lifts the mood, as they temporarily stop running from sounding too 80s. From its title down, it’s a perfectly poised pop song, with a memorable lyrical hook: “When we used to dance we never cast a shadow.” It’d make a strong second single.
The Road recalls Nine Inch Nails, and is as bleak as expected from a song influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel, although its discordant finale tries far too hard.
The standout is a ballad by the name of The Crow. With shades of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, it showcases an intimacy sometimes missing amid this band’s studied grandiosity.
Exile occasionally takes itself so seriously that it’s hard not to smirk. It's a shame, too, that the lyrics so often indulge banal generalities, and its heavy guitars may be cynically aimed at the US market.
But these points aside, this is a second album that genuinely builds upon its predecessor. Exile reinforces the feeling in modern pop that no other group sounds quite as hurt as Hurts.
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