It seems like a long time since Happiness first took us into the greyscale world of Hurts. It came with a flair for dramatics, a severe case of taking itself far too seriously at times and emotional outpourings aplenty but regardless it was a brilliant album. Three years later we happen across the darker, unexplored side of Happiness with the every so aptly named Exile. Full of the same theatrics and emotional outburst; except this time Hurts have thrown it up to the next level and poured lashings of anger, rage and darkness all over.
Title track ‘Exile’ opens the album and pretty much tells you everything you’ll need to know about the album: it’s darker, broodier and looms far more than anything on Happiness ever did. If you don’t like this blackened soundscape then there’s little hope you’ll like anything on Exile. Driven by layers of more-industrial leant synths and, perhaps more shockingly, guitar—it immediately throws you into the deep end. Lead single ‘Miracle’ allows a little bit of a breather, although not much. It’s the monochromatic twin of Coldplay’s ‘Princess of China’; with the same stadium pop quality drenched in noir.
Not ones to be accused for sticking to the formula they know that works, Hurts play around a little when it comes to ‘Sandman’. Sounding more like a hip-hop track to start, it is only when Theo’s voice joins the foray does the track really make any sense—although the accompanying child-choir seems a little bit too bombastic even for Hurts.
‘The Road’ is eerie and sinister from the start. Theo Hutchraft’s voice is a barely a whisper over the top of a piano and synth combination that is reminiscent of something out of a horror film. This comparison grows when the sombre drumbeat and the more gnashing synths twist together in the chorus. ‘Cupid’ was the track I was most looking forward to on the album after hearing it live at Heaven a month ago—although lacking some of the ferocity of its’ live counterpart, ‘Cupid’ is definitely my favourite from the album. Sounding like a hybrid of Hurts, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, the track has a full synth-and-guitar thrashing intensity that blows you away on first listen and every subsequent listen after.
The latter half of the album is when glimmers of Happiness flitter through, and allows you to follow the natural progression of Hurts. ‘The Crow’ plays on the same evocative story-telling lyrics of their debut which, despite the numerous instruments, casts a lonely, exposed feeling upon you. ‘The Rope’ is built around Adam Anderson’s piano and has echoes of blackened ‘Evelyn’ about it.
The album itself is still full of the overblown theatrics which Hurts seem to specialise in. From the towering brass and choirs singing ‘M-E-R-C-Y’ on, you guessed it, ‘Mercy’ to the lyrics that run though the ever-so-slightly melodramatically named ‘Somebody to Die For’—Hurts amplify emotions so they are larger-than-life. Sometimes they push the boundaries perhaps a little too far, such as the slightly grating ballad that is ‘Blind’; but overall they manage to keep it in check long enough to create an album that is full of raw emotions and the perfect musical soundscape to accompany it.