Even before their debut album, Happiness, became one of the fastest-selling albums in the U.K. in 2010, Manchester duo Hurts already had a rabid online fan base, stoked by several arch, expertly art-directed videos that the group self-produced, which captured the eye while showcasing the band's mix of '80s synth pop melodicism, Krautrock angularity, and '90s Hi-NRG balladry. The videos expertly juxtaposed a Helmut Newton-esque black-and-white aesthetic with the group's musical love of dance-club dramatics, á la Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Pet Shop Boys, eventually attracting the attention of Euro-pop diva Kylie Minogue, who ended up singing on the track "Devotion." That Hurts reciprocated the gesture by covering Minogue's 1994 hit single "Confide in Me" for The Sun website pointed to their broad musical appeal and bold knack for turning what might simply have been an exercise in pop camp into something far more brooding and emotional. Hurts continue in this bold vein with their 2013 sophomore effort, Exile. Working with Dan Grech-Marguerat and Happiness-producer Jonas Quant, Hurts have crafted a bigger, brasher, even more passionate version of the cinematic feel heard on Happiness. As with Happiness, Exile makes room for vocalist Theo Hutchcraft to explore the operatic croon of '70s Scott Walker alongside keyboardist/guitarist Adam Anderson's Diva-ready house beats, creating the kind of catchy, soulful, melodic statements that haven't been heard since Soul II Soul brought us "Back to life, back to reality" in 1989. However, Hurts go further on Exile, updating their '80s electronic sound with a sparkling, contemporary R&B sheen that weaves in Baroque orchestral sections, choirs of backing vocals, and even some swaggering hard rock guitar attitude. On the surface, Hurts come off as a classic Euro-pop act circa 1990: all clean lines, slicked hair, and buttoned-up collars with nary a bolo tie or a Windsor knot in sight. The image is bolstered by such cuts as the yearningly romantic "The Rope" and the equally evocative "The Road," whose pre-album promotional video, inspired by Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name and J.G. Ballard's novel Crash, hinted that Exile might be a grandly apocalyptic synth pop masterpiece. All of which is certainly true and, as evident by such songs as "Mercy" and "Somebody to Die For," nobody does bittersweet, post-disco comedown anthems like Hurts. However, dig a bit deeper on Exile and cuts like the anthemic "Miracle" and the Queen-meets-Dr. Dre schoolyard funk of "Sandman" reveal more booty-shaking beats than a Beyoncé album. What's clear about Hurts on Exile is how skilled Hutchcraft and Anderson are at seamlessly incorporating their influences, so you can hear the bands' inspirations in every line even as you marvel that this album is like nothing you've heard before.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar