ISSUE #8 FEB 06

Will

Hard-Fi
"Stars Of CCTV"

1st August 2005
reviewer: Will
rating: 3 out of 5
published by: Necessary Records
released: 4th July 2005
  1. Cash Machine
  2. Middle Eastern Holiday
  3. Tied Up Too Tight
  4. Gotta Reason
  5. Hard To Beat
  6. Unnecessary Trouble
  7. Move On Now
  8. Better Do Better
  9. Feltham Is Singing Out
  10. Living For The Weekend
  11. Stars Of CCTV

Hard-Fi's radio-perfect singles ‘Cash Machine’, ‘Tied Up Too Tight’ and most recently the glorious ‘Hard To Beat’ have propelled them into the indie spotlight. Their homemade video for ‘Cash Machine’ is gleefully low-budget: they jumped the fence at Heathrow Airport and performed at the end of the main runway, like a cut-price version of U2's video for ‘Beautiful Day’. As I write, their debut album Stars Of CCTV (originally recorded for just £600) sits at number six in the charts, and they are being called the next big British band.

Stars Of CCTV's tales of inner-city frustration have seen Hard-Fi branded as a rock version of the Streets, but the Staines band share less in common with Mike Skinner than they do with punk legends the Clash. Both bands have taken the dominant form of rock at the time – for the Clash it was punk, for Hard-Fi it's Franz Ferdinand-style punk-funk – and injected it with reggae, dub and ska. The result in both cases is a refreshing and more importantly believable urban voice, though thankfully Hard-Fi's singer Richard Archer can hold a note better than Joe Strummer…

On pressing play the first thing you hear is a horn splash, conjuring the ghosts of the Specials and the aforementioned Clash before bringing them bang up to date with a glam stomp of a drumbeat. From there the pace varies just enough, from the headlong rush of ‘Middle Eastern Holiday’ to the midnight piano ballad ‘Move On Now’. Most of the time the band keep things fast and danceable though, whether singing about a beer-goggled one night stand (‘Hard To Beat’) or a friend lost to drug addiction (‘Feltham Is Singing Out’).

The album's biggest misstep is the forgettable ‘Unnecessary Trouble’, which suffers even more from having to follow ‘Hard To Beat’. Sharing themes with the Streets' ‘Geezers Need Excitement’ (okay, okay, the Streets comparison is a good one), it's basically just there to fill up the numbers. The other tracks are at least solid, revealing hidden depths with repeated listens. In fact for a band branded as "chav rock" Hard-Fi's music is surprisingly intelligent. From the knowing winks to their influences, to the expressive and heartfelt lyrics, they sound like they know exactly what they're doing. Plus you've got to smile at Archer's dark wit as he boasts "We're the stars of CCTV/Can't you see the camera loves me?"

A strong debut then: radio-friendly singles, everyman charm and an undeniable swagger mean Stars Of CCTV will likely appear on many Best Of 2005 lists. Whether the band can summon a sequel that's as strong – perhaps their own London Calling? – remains to be seen.