Hurts: Surrender (2 stars)

Hurts: Surrender

Disappointing, X-Factor-esque third album from Hurts

Manchester duo Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson will be dismayed to hear that X-Factor’s ratings are on the slide, because with this third album it sounds like they’ve made a grab for the winner’s single market for the next few years at least. It’s impossible to listen to Hutchcraft’s silken, polished vocal and somewhat over-earnest lyricism without imagining Derek from Oswestry doing that ‘grasp your fists to your chest and close your eyes’ pose so beloved of early twentysomething telemarketers with unexpectedly nice voices.

Ugh. That’s right, ugh. This record sends a shiver down the spine; not a thrill of excitement, but a depth charge of 21st century ennui comparable to imagining yourself as a fly on the wall the day Cat Bin Lady went into work after everyone found out what she’d done. It starts so well, too, with one minute seventeen seconds of Hutchcraft repeating the album’s title over an icy, steadily rising synthesised symphony which is heavily gospel in tone. More of the same positivity occurs in ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, a nice slice of radio-friendly positivity founded on clattering beats, more artificial symphonics and that sweeping voice again.

It’s music, make no mistake, of which Gary Barlow would be very proud. Not Take That Gary Barlow, though; just solo Gary Barlow. It’s incredibly professionally produced and in tune with the pop aesthetic of its time, admittedly, but humour, sensuality, surprise – all of these things are forbidden. ‘Just let it out / you can leave,’ Hutchcraft sings on ‘Why’, and it might be taken as an early warning.

The pacing and texture of most songs is hard to separate. ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ at least comes with a hint of a club beat, and Hutchcraft gets to show off a wider range, slipping into an almost spoken baritone on certain lines. His lyrics are either off-the-shelf declarations of affirmation or weirdly out-of-place attempts at something much deeper. ‘She said her daddy was an alcoholic / and her mother was an animal… she said that the law will never take her alive / if they take her home,’ he sings on ‘Rolling Stone’, but the obviously powerful intended message is planed off by the air of throwaway pop artifice in the music.

There are modest diversions into electro-funk (‘Light’), brass band reminiscent chillwave (‘Slow’) and Kylie-channelling disco-pop (‘Kaleidoscope’), and these briefly add a bit of life around the album’s midriff. But then we’re back to somnambulant torch singing with ‘Wings’ and ‘Wish’, and resigned to acknowledging that once more, millions will buy this record. Although Simon Cowell will probably get his for free.

Surrender is out on Columbia on Fri 9 Oct.

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