I approached the new album with some trepidation. I liked each new revealed song less and less and was eventually worried something even worse than Sandman would wait for me on the album. Listening to Exile then ended up being a nice surprise. No tragedies. Perhaps no enormous tunes a la Happiness either but I don't necessarily see that as an all out bad thing. On first few listens Happiness seemed almost cheesy to me. The melodies were so big and somehow familiar, it was a bit ridiculous. Exile definitely does not suffer from this. I also should note Theo's vocals are quite an improvement over the first album. Deeper, richer, more interesting and at the same time less affected.
To say this album is darker than Happiness would be misleading. Sonically maybe. But lyrically it's not much darker than pretty much any song on the band's debut album, and the same goes for the melodies of the individual songs. There is not a big departure here. Hurts are an interesting band in that they are not original. They didn't invent a new style of pop music. But at the same time they somehow managed to create a distinct sound for them and so even though Exile has a different, more industrial sound to it, the album is still instantly recognisable as a Hurts album. What many fans, myself included, seem to be attracted to when it comes to this band, is the core of what they are doing: the melancholy, the darkness, the romance. And Exile has it all.
The following part of this review is mostly intended for fans of the band and those who already have the album or are interested in a song by song overview. The rest of you, jump to my final verdict.
Exile: Depeche Mode meets Muse meets U2. But actually one the of strongest songs on the album. Pretty sexy. And a great opener.
Miracle: Coldplay meets Hurts. I wasn't enamoured with it at first and hated the Coldplay sound (for Hurts) but the song has grown on me and now I don't hear it as a Hurts doing Coldplay affair any more, just as a pretty good Hurts single. All emo, dark and poppy. Just the way we like 'em.
Sandman: Well. I hate this one. And it's not getting better with additional listens. The song itself would have been quite good but the whole very earwormy hip hop-y hook keeps ruining the song for me.
Blind: I've given it a few listens but it hasn't clicked with me yet. It's typical Hurts though, so I suppose the click will come soon enough.
Only You: One of my favourite songs on the album. Might be the least retro song the band has ever recorded. Sounds ethereal and a bit futuristic. Light, but in the best possible way.
The Road: The first officially revealed song from the album is some dark, creepy stuff.
Darling, what's your name and can you hear me? Tell me why you're out so late alone, it starts. But it's a very strong song and the closing Nine Inch Nails meets Muse sound effects suit it perfectly.
Cupid: Another of my favourite songs on the album. Reminiscent of Depeche Mode.
Mercy: When it starts playing it promises more than it eventually delivers. A proper tune would be nice. I do like the backing vocals though. It definitely has the potential to grow on me after a while.
The Crow: An atmospheric song. Not the strongest on the album but not a failure. Can be revelatory if one is in the right mood.
Somebody to Die For: This song could have easily appeared on Happiness, just as it is. Instantly recognisable as a Hurts song.
The Rope: The Hitchcock film Rope is definitely better than this song. It's not a bad song per sé, but it's quite forgettable for me at this point.
Help: The verses remind me of Mika at his quietest and most introspective - and that is a very good thing. A beautiful closing song of the regular version of Exile.
Heaven: A bit of a throwaway song, deservedly ended up a bonus on the deluxe edition. So far it sounds quite generic to me but it's entirely possible it will grow on me over time.
Guilt: Why isn't this song on the regular version? Come on. Previously known as Under The Bridge, Guilt was the first new song we've ever heard from the Exile era and it sounds even better recorded. It's a great song and a worthy closing track on the Deluxe edition. Quintessential Hurts.
The final verdict:
Exile sees Hurts being less 80's/early 90's dark synthpop but rather more Depeche Mode jamming with Nine Inch Nails. It actually seems a natural progression - especially to those who have seen the band perform live in the years between the releases of Happiness and Exile. And the new album still sounds very, very Hurts. Will it alienate some fans? Possibly. But I don't think it necessarily should. The emperors just put on slightly different clothes.