“Y’alright Bos-TON!? This one’s called ‘Cash Machine’ and it’s about bein’ UNBELIEVABLY FACKIN’ BROKE!”
Is Richard Archer laying it on a bit thick? The lead singer of British dance-punkers Hard-Fi is twitching about in his pristine white sneakers and tight jacket (a hint of ye olde bondage in its diagonal zipper) with showbiz panic ricocheting from his knees and elbows. “We’re from Staines!” he yelps. “In West London! And this one’s about gettin’ the FACK outta there!”
Archer — or “the eyebrows guy,” as I hear one young woman refer to him — wants to get the kids moving, but asses don’t lie: the fan-stacked, ready-to-go front rows at the Paradise on April 2 can only nod in glazed approbation as the Hard-Fi rhythm section, lacking the electro-snap of the recorded version, bypasses their behinds. Last month, from this same stage, we experienced the sour rush of Arctic Monkeys, their wild mix of brimming youth and disillusioned, bottom-of-the-can fizz . . . British bands to conquer the world? Hard-Fi, tonight at least, are not making the grade.
Which is a shame, because their debut album Stars of CCTV (Atlantic) really does have its moments: take “Living for the Weekend,” a classic mod anthem of industrialized enjoyment that begins with a seedy, through-a-toilet-wall disco throb, builds through an Oasis-meets-Erasure chorus, and breaks down into jabbing Clash chords and hoarse cries of “Feel the pressure!” Or the title track, in which Archer ’s wistful falsetto (“On every corner, every street/In every underpass you’ll meet/Somebody stealing the show/Somebody just like me . . . ”) is tracked by strummings of wine-bar flamenco and Fistful of Dollars lamentation, as Britain’s pilled-up and over-surveilled youth swagger tragically into a neon cowboy sunset.
This is the poetry of the New British Sound: riot vans, rage-engorged faces in taxi queues, the mute vigilance of the cameras, everywhere the sense of some remote flogging going on. “A friend of a friend he got beaten/He looked the wrong way at a policeman . . . ” (Kaiser Chiefs’ “I Predict a Riot”). It was Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker who first turned this fear-enlarged eyeball onto the culture, and it has become the dominant lyrical mode. The psychedelia floatingly resurrected by Britpop in the ’90s — the wobbly grandeur of the Verve, the nationwide Beatles fetish — has evaporated: now it’s all chopped guitars and schoolyard chants. “Nah-na-na-nah-nah” sing Hard-Fi in “Tied Up Too Tight,” “The cognoscenti don’t like us, don’t like us . . . ”
“We sing about our lives, what we see, what we know,” declares Ross Phillips, Hard-Fi’s guitarist. Declining the offer of a beer (“I won’t actually, mate. Had a skinful last night — New York, know what I mean?”), a pre-show Phillips has settled himself into a corner of the Paradise, to watch the roadies trundle by with their black crates. He’s in his mid-20s, but with a spark of ancient humor in his face, and a shabby little rustle of a laugh — highly likeable. “With a lot of bands,” he says mildly, “the lyrics sound like they’re really deep and really meaningful, but when you get down to it there’s not much there. We sing about what affects us, and what people can relate to.”