We Love The City
By: Eric Greenwood
Somehow, over the course of three albums Hefner has managed to transform its awkward, bookish charm into a grating chore on the ears. We Love The City is both a heartfelt and cynical exploration of the band's love/hate relationship with giddy London, but despite Darren Hayman’s clever attempts to outdo himself lyrically, the album suffers from an overwhelming sense of calculated disaffection. At least Morrissey sounded miserable when he bellowed his melodic demons. Hayman is all too happy to recount the failings of his complicated lovelife, though, which raises the suspicion of disingenuousness.
Hayman’s lack of subtlety ends up getting the best of him, too, producing such embarrassing and bloated sentiments as “The Day That Thatcher Dies”, a snazzy, horn-infested pop ditty complete with a choir of children chanting: “ding dong the witch is dead/the wicked witch is dead.” Typical little man/Billy Bragg politics aside, this is cringeworthy stuff. Lassoing up the commoners is evidently Hayman's calling, but how hard is that? To make matters worse, Hayman possesses one of the most nasal-infected voices in all of British indie.
Hayman throws down almost all of his aces in the title track, which opens the album: “This is London, not Antarctica, so why don’t the tubes run all night/you are my girlfriend, not Molly Ringwald, so why don’t you stay here tonight…we love the city because it lets us down/we love the city, not the suburbs that surround.” Hayman’s voice is hard enough to cozy up to as it is without this kind of spastic delivery. He sounds like a neighing horse. Too bad too because with a catchier hook and a faster beat this could have easily been a classic with those lyrics.
Obviously, Hayman’s self-deprecating and ironic narrative is the star here, but it detracts from as much as it carries many songs. His constant limey nagging is shrill, and he revels in its crudeness without regret. The production is much improved, though. Hefner’s previously guitar-driven pop has expanded into a much fuller sound, where organs and horns and backing vocals play just as big a role as the strumming does. Unfortunately, the tempo has slowed down a bit too much, and the expansiveness makes for uneasy listening. Hefner’s never been afraid of ballads, but they were always couched in between peppy, Wedding Present-style rockers.
If Belle And Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch were to look into a funhouse mirror, he'd see Darren Hayman staring back and scream. Other influences are more directly accessible, however. The Velvet Underground and The Modern Lovers still make regular visits to Hayman’s turntable as evidenced by “Painting And Kissing” with its repetitive, fuzzy jangle and its uninhibited lyrical exploration. But just like the cute child actor that awkwardly coasts through his ugly early teens so to does Hefner on this junior year slump.