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Stars Of CCTV

Rating: 9/10 ?

March 23, 2006
Hailing from that notorious hotbed of culture known as Staines, London, Hard-Fi emerged onto the British rock scene last year and have quickly become a staple of the British chart, managing to stride the awkward balance between commercial acceptability and critical acclaim. Now they find themselves attempting to break the American market, where many a British act has floundered (is Robbie Williams still trying?). But on the basis of this fine debut album, the course looks set for success.

The album opens in fine style with the groovy "Cash Machine", which has more than a shade of The Specials and Terry Hall's other band, the oft-overlooked Fun Boy Three, and manages to capture both the funky and the compassionate side of those bands. It tells the story of Archer being too poor to support his pregnant girlfriend so, ashamed, he disappears. It reeks with the frustration of being a working-class male in modern Britain, but doesn't wallow in self-pity - indeed, the music is so catchy you almost find yourself neglecting the spirit of the lyric. The track is perfectly supplemented by the track that follows it, "Middle Eastern Holiday," a raucous number with some superb backing vocals which sound like a schoolboy choir infiltrated by Rammstein.

Stars Of CCTV is chock-full of infectious numbers like "Tied Up Too Tight", with it's refrain of "they don't like us" and it's na-na-na-na-naaa chorus. For a band whose lyrics pride themselves on their street-smarts and frustration with urban life, the melodies sure are catchy, indeed, very mainstream. They can also do big, Richard Ashcroft-esque epics, as evidenced by the slightly over-dramatic "Better Do Better."

Richard Archer is certainly blessed with a distinctive voice that can lend itself to an assortment of different material. He can tackle modern dance-rock ("Hard To Beat") along with aching melancholy ("Move On Now"), although one would think angsty melancholia would be a natural instinct from anybody coming from The Staines, London. The dreamy "Move On Now" is a piano ballad that showcases Archer's softer, more sentimental side. It's a break from the rest of the album, especially coming after the passionate, fiery "Unnecessary Trouble," and is an accurate demonstration of the range that Hard-Fi possess.

The album is very much a product of its surroundings, reeking of grimey alleyways, urban decay, the boredom of inner-city life and a desperation to break free of all of this. It's very much a working-class record to, and this has resulted in Hard-Fi becoming the guitar band of choice among the British proletarian male who only purchases one album per year. Hard-Fi are very much a British band, indeed, very much a London band because their product is a direct reflection of their background. It should be, in theory, surprising that this most British of bands is making headway into the difficult American market, so Archer and friends deserve praise for making an album so rooted in its locale so appealing to a wider audience due to the never-ending amount of catchy hooks and melodies on display on Stars Of CCTV.

While Stars Of CCTV is very much a reflection of the musical icons that have come before it (The Specials, The Clash, The Jam, The Style Council, Oasis, Blur, The Verve), it pays homage without being too derivative. It is also nice to see a British guitar band with its eyes fixed more on the streets than on the dancefloor, a good change of pace from what we have come to expect from the latest 'British Invasion'.

Archer has made clear that he wants Hard-Fi to be something big, and they have wasted no time in attempting to conquer the American market after becoming a fairly established act in their native UK. Archer has gone on record to state "What's the point in being parochial and small-time? You've got to think big." Lofty ambitions, indeed. There are moments on Stars Of CCTV which seem more like a concerted effort to make the big time rather than something more organic and humble, which has earned Hard-Fi some criticism from some quarters, particularly in the notoriously fickle British music media. This criticism is slightly unfair; you can't necessarily fault a band for its ambition, and given Hard-Fi's roots in one of the poorest communities of London (of the whole United Kingdom, in fact), one must applaud their escape using this medium. Based on this gutsy, ambitious, passionate debut, you can be assured that Hard-Fi will be around for some time. On "Cash Machine," Archer muses 'I wonder if I'll ever get to where I want to be?'. One must posit the theory that his question has already been answered.

Reviewed by Ryan Thomas
A contributing writer from Washington state, Ryan Thomas recently relocated to the UK, where he continues to contribute to LAS.

See other reviews by Ryan Thomas



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