Picking up precisely where Hurt's debut left off, Vol. II is the companion piece, continuation, culmination (call it what you will) of all the group began on Vol. I. In fact, early on, the band originally envisioned this musical corpus if not as a double set, at least as a pair of bookends to be released together. It wasn't to be, and so the two were recorded separately, with time to grow in between. And grow they have, with Vol. II exhibiting a greater maturity, a more coherent sound, and a more self-confident band. Even so, the two sets are closely intertwined, with themes, both lyrical and musical, from the first referenced in the second. Where Hurt go wrong is in treating their fans like idiots, foot-noting the cross-overs in the lyric sheets, whilst simultaneously parading their own superior intellect via references to Bell's Theorem and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principal. Hey guys, nobody likes patronizing, clever clogs.
But who can't feel the band's pain, so evident across this set, with their eternal doubts, manifold and manifest guilt, impatience with others foibles, and disgust at their own sins. These are wounds that never heal, because Hurt can't stop picking at the scabs, damned to relive the emotional traumas over and over in their mind, then flip them over to experience them from the opposite side. That latter technique is best seen on the twinned "Loded" and "Better," the former a scathing rejection of drugs and their imbibers, the latter seemingly more sympathetic, but in reality a searing expose of enablement. In "Better," addiction masquerades as love, on "Abuse of Sid," love masks self-loathing, but with "Assurance," love means never having to say good-bye for good. Cross out "woman" and substitute drugs or alcohols on the latter number, and you've circled right back 'round to addiction. Most chilling, though, is "Talking to God," where there's no love at all, except for a misplaced love of the Lord. The closing triplet "On the Radio," "Et Al, and "Thank You for Listening" struggles with the artist's relationship to his audiences, sometimes symbiotic, other times parasitic. These shifting sands evoke love and hate, frustration and fear, pain and joy, a never-ending waltz between reality and reflection, but which is the mirror and which the solid object, the fans or the band? The music is as varied and complex as the themes, with the epic opener "Summers Lost" one of the set's high points. The radio-friendly "Ten Ton Brick" was the obvious pick for first single, its counterpoint, "Aftermath," not so much so, but a wonderfully moody, introspective number regardless. "Sid" is a heady brew of classic and modern rock elements, "Better" a splendid alt-rocker with dramatic shifts in tempo and mood, "God" is graced with dramatic strings, "Assurance" with jazzy piano and a glowing prog rock atmosphere, and "Alone with the Sea" a melancholy banjo. An adventurous and powerful set musically and emotionally, rounding off the phenomenal journey the band began on Vol. I. [Vol. II was also released in a clean version.]