Hurts – review

Troxy, London
Hurts have their moments, but Theo Hutchcraft's cheesy chart vocals make them every bit as painful as their name suggests

If musical trends die the instant they resort to pastiche, the emergence of Manchester's Hurts in 2010 should have sounded the knell for the 80s revival. With their Spandau-slick hair, synths like snowdrifts, fonts of dramatic sophistication and garish gold accessories, they were the asbo Ultravox. Yet, somehow aligning this chart pop duo to the xx, critics let them in – and they thrived. They're massive in Europe – where, to be fair, they like anything a bit Depeche Mode – and met with boyband adulation when they took the Troxy's stark stage, bathed in blue and clad in Black's old overcoats.

For 10 minutes, you could see why. As Adam Anderson wielded a sci-fi guitar, casting flecks of Nine Inch Nails, Never Let Me Down Again and, um, Genesis' Home By the Sea across Mercy and Miracle, the hedonism and alienation of touring that added edge to their second album Exile hit home with the cold crunch of goth metal. Later, the title track and Cupid provide similar set boosts, evoking Kraftwerk, Violator-era Mode and early Talk Talk.

But whichever genius sold Hurts to the rock press deserves a job hawking major London landmarks to American tourists, because when these few spasms of choir-pumped electro-rock subside, and Theo Hutchcraft's cheesy chart vocals bleat through, Hurts sink into a swamp of pap. Watching Hutchcraft warble out talent show dross – like Silver Lining or Somebody to Die For – you expect to be handed a buzzer linked to the pyramid-themed backdrop that, from the right angle, becomes a huge X. The stench of SyCo lingers throughout – Stay comes on like Elton Week and Blood, Tears and Gold takes us to judges' houses for an acoustic ballad that James Arthur would consider trite.

If Hutchcraft's faux-emotive lyrical cliches and trills of "cut out my eyes" during Blind haven't already made you cut off your ears, by the time they close with Help – essentially the WKD Fix You – all cult pretence is discarded and mawkishness rules. Hurts are just that: pure agony.

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Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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