Hefner were always a band who split opinion. Some found Darren Hayman's songwriting moving and realistic, and enjoyed the vibrant guitar-bursts and lust-laden laments; whilst detractors saw Hefner as overly twee, and criticised Hayman's admittedly limited voice. Probably the simplest and most useful thing I can say of 'Pram Town' is that if you liked Hefner, you're likely to enjoy 'Pram Town', and if you didn't; then the same things that disinclined you to Hefner, will likely irk you about this record. That isn't to say, however, that Darren Hayman hasn't moved on since his most famous project broke up a decade ago. Just as 'The Fidelity Wars' told deeply-personal stories of lust, frustration and youthful abandon; 'Pram Town' is older, wiser, and perhaps even a little better. The Secondary Modern, Hayman's backing band, are genuinely virtuoso and have a wonderful knack of finding catchy, fitting melodies for Hayman's tales of likeable local bands, the frustrations of the Essex New Town of Harlow (the 'setting' for the album), and his casting of a wistful eye onto relationships in an adult world - such as in the perceptive 'Fire Stairs', and the album's undoubted highlight, the bittersweet masterpiece 'Never Want To Be That Way Again', where Hayman laments a seemingly perfect relationship gone wrong, amidst the beautifully bittersweet jangling guitars of The Secondary Modern.
There are a few flaws in 'Pram Town', though they detract relatively little from the overall quality of this excellent album. Hayman's lyrics, whilst largely smart and feeling, do contain a few cringeworthy duds which take the sheen off a few songs. There are also a couple of tracks which feel like little more than padding, namely 'Civic Pride' and 'No Middle Name'. But for the most part, 'Pram Town' ticks all the right boxes. Hayman's voice - either from vocal training or superb production - sounds tuneful and moving, better than it has on any of Hefner's recordings, or his solo work, the album is full of enchanting indie-pop melodies, and contains some of the best songs of Hayman's whole career, including the wonderfully satirical 'Pram Town', and the tale of an unlikely band made good (a topic Hayman will know only too well) in 'Amy and Rachel'. Fans of Hefner and of Hayman's other solo albums, as well as those looking for an honest, memorable and musically superb indie pop album will find a huge amount to like in 'Pram Town'.