It may be low hanging fruit to consider Hurts the spiritual successor to the Pet Shop Boys, although there are reasons to do so without coming off as a twit in the process. Both acts make synth-pop that seem tailor-made for gay clubs, and they are both made up of a duo of “probably gay, probably not, but ooh” guys with dishy accents, they both had done songs with Kylie Minogue, and if you publicly denigrate them, expect a battalion of fans of all spectrum of sexuality to come to their defense.
(On the duets with Ms Minogue, sorry Hurts but I have to give the medal to In Denial, which is a far superior, more imaginatively crafted song that captures in perfect technicolor a poignant conversation of a man with his daughter on how his down-low gay escapades are only making him more depressed; she tries to reassure him that she is fine with him coming out and being who he is.)
Perhaps a product of its time, however, Hurts does do something the Pet Shop Boys wouldn’t normally do. The Pet Shop Boys tend to be a bit tongue-in-cheek even when the lads are being bitter. Hurts, on the other hand, can infuse their songs with a very open stark, defiant kind of nihilism; these songs end up being anthems of sorts for the disenfranchised who just want to let their hair down and damn what others say.
This is nowhere more evident in the joyously bittersweet Beautiful Ones, which seems at the surface to be another song of going “Woo! Yaaas slay, kween!” as one goes about to have a good time in town, at least until I pay more attention to the words.
Don’t think twice
Give yourself to another night
Hold on tight
Hope that you make it out alive
The music video strips all subtlety as to the meaning of the song, but even without the music video, the song itself paints a stark picture of making a defiant stand against the way life screws with you and keeps you down – tamper down on the despair and the resignation that things are never going to get better. No, we’re going out tonight, be ourselves, do our thing, and feel fucking beautiful in the process, and damn the consequences.
Similar sentiments continue through songs such as Something I Need to Know and Magnificent – these are some of the finest, tightly produced pop songs with killer hooks and fabulous choruses, perfect for rousing singalongs, that is, until the meaning of the words sinks in, and then it’s time to put down the beer and be enveloped in melancholy all over. Even Chaperone, what could have been a cute song about a guy waiting in the wings for the person he is infatuated with, comes off like some Nice Guy anthem. Still, it has a lovely piano playing in the back with some cute wailing sounds to give it a “I’m getting drunk with Kate Bush and she’s wailing because she’s lost it!” atmosphere.
Boyfriend, on the other hand, is an anthem for chads everywhere, with its sexy Prince-inspired sound and a set of lyrics which sees him oozing disdain at a woman who clearly lusts after him but has settled for an inferior lover who just happens to have more money. He knows he’s a better lover in every way, and he knows she’s missing out on high grade stuff. Walk Away is almost religious in how uplifting the whole thing sounds… but it’s about calling the quits on a toxic relationship. There are very few happy endings in the world of Hurts, but damn if the music didn’t sound so good all the same. If we’re all going to lose, Hurts wants everyone to go down singing.
The only “What the…” moment here is Thinking of You, a straightforward poppy love song that actually makes Theo Hutchcraft sound like he were possessed by the addled spirit of Justin Bieber. Still, I suppose I earn a respite from all the angst-filled tunes in Desire, so this out-of-place tune is alright.
Of course, it’s valid to ponder whether the lads of Hurts are just being pretentious emo hamburgers or they are genuinely the second coming of gay sad Elmo at heart. But given how much of a visceral self-cutting, heartbreaking experience Desire can be, I’m content to just go with the tide and sing out loud to these songs. Well, maybe not Thinking of You, but that’s what the skip button is for.