Chris reviews Hard Fi, Once Upon a Time in the West

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Back in 2005, Hard Fi rocked the suburbs with their debut album ‘Stars of CCTV’. It has taken them two years to finalise the follow up, but now it is upon us. The question is, will ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ turn out to be the difficult second album?

First impressions are that Hard Fi are going for a more mature sound. The slower songs were the real stars of the previous album, with a genuine depth to them and there’s a palpable sense of the band trying to continue in this direction. Up tempo floor fillers like the single ‘Suburban Knights’ remain, but some how the slower tracks seem to take precedent. ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’s closing track, ‘The King’ is particularly good example of this, and one that wouldn’t sound out of place at the end of ‘Stars of CCTV’.

Hard Fi are a great studio band and once again the album is superbly produced with many layers ensuring there is always something going on. The basic melodies are frequently reinforced with backing vocals, keyboards and horns. Despite this, it never feels fussy, retaining a clarity and sense of purpose the whole way through from the anthemic choruses of ‘Little Angel’ through to the melancholic verses of ‘Tonight’ and the almost Oasis-like ‘Help Me Please’. The instrumental elements are combined with catchy and occasionally poignant lyrics, chronicling life in West London. Gone are the laddish references to drinking, fighting and young offenders institutes and in come more sentimental themes of love and loss. However you needn’t fear that Hard Fi have gone soft, as they still retain a gritty realism taken from the streets of Suburbia.

The new album is undoubtedly a success and the band retain a strong identity. However the intangible raw quality that gave the first album so much clout isn’t quite as strong here. As true to life as the tales they tell, it seems that Hard Fi have mellowed somewhat now they’ve fully establish themselves on the UK music scene, but they’ve proved they can still deliver the goods and look set to be around for many years to come.

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