Hard-Fi Stars of CCTV, 2005, Atlantic Records
Middle Eastern Holiday
Tied up Too Tight
Hard to Beat
Move on Now
Better Do Better
Feltham Is Singing Out
Living for the Weekend
Stars of CCTV
Hard-Fi formed in Staines, just to the west of London in 2003. This, their first album was the peak of their success. Costing around £300 to record, it reached number one five months after its initial release thanks to a number of successful singles. It remained in the chart for a total of 63 weeks.
The horns wail at the beginning of Cash Machine. This plaintive ode to living from paycheck to paycheck has a jaunty ska melody that belies the desperation of the lyrics. Middle Eastern Holiday continues in this vein comparing young British soldiers fighting in the Iraq war with their contemporaries back home. Tied Up Too Tight is an instant classic, it has a bit of a Muse-like quality but with a stadium rock level chorus. Gotta Reason is fast and furious and punky, but pretty light in comparison to the other tracks. Hard to Beat became the band’s first top ten single, it’s the poppiest song on the album but still a love song for people who like to jump around rather than slow dance. Unnecessary Trouble is surely an anthem for bored youth. It’s a great, catchy track. Ballad Move on Now is beautiful but does feel out of place amongst all the more up-tempo numbers. Better Do Better has a lovely reggae-infused start, it’s an angry break-up song but it still makes you want to move your feet. Feltham is Singing Out is a high point, loosely based on the life of Zahid Mubarek who was killed in a racist attack just hours before he was due to be released from Her Majesty's Prison and Young Offenders Institution Feltham in 2000, it’s yet another anthem for disaffected youth, this time the kind who let their partying spiral out of control and end up in prison. Again, there is a stadium level chorus here. Living for the Weekend kicks in as if the previous song hasn’t happened. It’s pure hedonism with a strong dancy beat. The title track closes the album, its title instantly relevant to Londoners, residents as we are of the most watched city in the world. It’s a bit of a low key ending but continues all of the main lyrical themes of the album.
I really love this album. I recognise that this is in large part because so much of it was directly relevant to my life at the time it was released but the songs still stand up 15 years later and make you want to dance. The focus on social realism in the style of The Jam and The Streets, but also The Specials and The Clash with a bit of a reggae flavour obviously appealed far more widely than West London because in May 2006 Hard Fi sold out Brixton Academy for five nights in a row, a massive achievement for a band with only a single album release to their name. There are a lot of catchy lyrics and despite some of them being quite downbeat it feels like a fun album, one that you are in on the joke of which seems to make it even better. It also keeps you hooked from beginning to end and to me it’s a genuinely classic indie album. Stars of CCTV gives a strong sense of place, which feels more important when you realise it was released a matter of days before the 2005 London bombings. It’s true that my London is showing and that they never really hit these heights again (although their second album is also pretty decent in my opinion) but I’m definitely still a Hard-Fi fan.