Hefner - We Love the City
I picked up the last Hefner album right after its release two years ago.
I confess that I listened to it once and set it back on the shelf. I
recall a vague awareness that the record (1999's The Fidelity Wars) was
critically praised and that the band had a small but devoted underground
following. I didn't really understand why. A group of geeky Brits singing
about relationships? Why did they deserve such a cult following? The music
sure didn't sound extraordinary. I put the disc in its alphabetically
assigned spot and never looked back. Until now.
The folks at ADKG had no way to know about my ambivalence toward Hefner, so
I have to assume there was some cosmic force that pushed the new record
into my inbox. After two weeks of listening to City I was completely sold
on Hefner's brand of off-kilter pop.
There are two main characteristics that set Hefner apart from ordinary
British pop, and both revolve around frontman Darren Hayman. The first and
most immediately apparent has to be his brassy, awkward vocal style. A
self-confessed graduate of the "non-singing school of singing", Hayman makes
an effort to smooth the edges of neither accent nor nasal resonance. Don't
mistake this description for criticism. Hayman's vocals are the centerpiece
of a lovably wobbly and real sound. Yes, this record has bass lines so
poppy that they could have been ripped right from an old Motown record,
simple but hooky guitar melodies, and a horn section all add atmosphere, but
Hayman's voice is undoubtedly the center of attention.
Truth be told, though, Hefner's sound is not what sets them apart. Hayman has
a gift far greater than his "non-singing" voice, and it is his ability to put
tales of urban love and lust and longing into a uniquely appealing narrative
form. He blends optimism, depression, confusion and ecstasy in painting a
picture more true to real life than most songwriters could dream of: "lost
feelings of love come flooding back, every time you cry, you give me little
heart attacks. Love seems strongest when its new, but thats something I can't
prove, I can't prove that I love you...I'm not supposed to feel this, not when
The songs on We Love the City aren't by any means romantic by most measures.
Nobody will be swooning over Darren Hayman's sloping chin and his horn-rimmed
glasses singing about a cafeteria lady. But if you measure romance in a
different way - the belief that love is all that matters in the world - you
might consider Hefner to be the most honest romantics of all. As the album
closes Hayman sings, "I have nothing to offer but a small selfish heart," but
for this band on this record, I do believe that he offers more than enough.
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