Last Updated on August 11, 2023
(The following article was originally published on AOL CityGuide in February 2006. View original as PDF.)
Haven’t heard of Hard-Fl? Perhaps that’s because, even though the Brits have already conquered their home country — racking up an enviable list of nominations and selling out their second UK tour in less than 20 minutes, thank you very much — the band’s debut album, Stars of CCTV, doesn’t drop stateside until March 14, nearly a year after its British release date. But that hasn’t kept a small but fervent American contingent from claiming the band as their own and snatching up cheap-as-dirt tickets while the Staines, England, group is still unknown enough to play intimate venues, like West Hollywood’s Troubadour.
To say Hard-Fi’s tunes are catchy is an understatement. Combining infectious Blur-esque nooks with raucous Clash beats and melodica(!)-driven intros, the quartet prides itself on genre-dabbling, throwing in as much reggae and new-wave influences as it does good ol’ rock n roll. Crowdpleasers such as “Cash Machine” — a single so popular across the pond that it spawned an X-rated video, available for purchase on the band’s website — had the Troubadour audience in a frenzy, singing along the blue-collar retrain (“I’m working for a cash machine / There’s a hole in my pocket, my pocket, my pocket”) with empathic gusto.
But has Hard-Fi overextended itself? Fans expecting to experience the vocal range frontman Richard Archer displays on the album may be disappointed in his Iive performance. With a sneer worthy of both Gallagher brothers’ contempt, Archer growls the lyrics that made such cuts as the titular album track so poignant. Perhaps the extensive touring schedule has caused him to scale back his vocals — a disappointment to say the least. While his confident posturing may win over some audiences, the faithful who ate up such heartfelt ballads as “Better Do Better” (destined to make break-up mix tapes for years to come) walked away somewhat dissatisfied by Archer’s aloof swagger and lackluster singing, especially since we know he’s capable of so much more. What made Stars of CCTV so irresistible was its common-man accessibility, but the in-person Archer does his best to distance himself from the crowd with punk showmanship and screeching lyrics just when a little emotion is most needed.
For ten smackers, the Troubadour show more than satisfied my Hard-Fi longings, but a larger venue and inflated ticket price may have left me wondering what the band had been forced to leave behind in customs. Perhaps more live stateside dates — Hard-Fi is scheduled to play SoCal’s Coachella in the spring — will inject confidence into a band still in its touring infancy. Band members (minus bassist Kai Stephens, whose criminal record kept him from getting a U.S. visa) had no problem coaxing the Troubadour audience into participatory singalongs (the “na-na’s” in “Tied Up Too Tight’; the “whoa-whoa-whoa’s” of “Unnecessary Trouble”), but they’ll need more than that to win over their Britpop-loving American audiences who’ve had their fill of pop-punk and emo.