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Hard feelings

Hard-Fi is going to have a hard time this spring, especially since they were position to be this year’s British “it” band until the Arctic Monkeys stole their thunder.

Nevertheless, these four blokes from Staines (basically the armpit of England) deserve just as much attention as those snotty young Sheffield punks. Hard-Fi is the latest in a long history of blue-collar rock born out of the UK suburbs. Those blue-collar beginnings prompted them to toss £300 into a hat, rent an empty mini-cab office, and record Stars of CCTV all by their lonesome. The album would eventually be mixed in pubs, vans, and even a BMW — wherever the band thought people might listen to it.

When Atlantic snatched them up, there was some talk of re-recording the tracks, but frontman Richard Archer held his ground. The accompanying burps of interruption — nearby London Heathrow planes passing overhead, noisy couriers arriving, and general highway noise — were left in. Loose it might be, but, as Archer puts it, the songs “still hit a nerve.” In other words, the humanity wasn’t produced out of it.

The title track of this dub-friendly, Britpop-meets-Sandinista-era-Clash treasure is a harmonically engaging nod to the close-captioned television cameras that pervade Londoners’ lives, but it’s the beat-heavy “Cash Machine” that is the album’s hallmark. It’s all about being skint (broke), arguing with ATMs, and finding out your girlfriend’s pregnancy test just went positive. Through it all, there’s a vein of social commentary: from creepy Big Brother tactics to economic hardship to war (“Middle Eastern Holiday”) to friends who were lost to the prison system (“Feltham’s Singing Out”). Stars of CCTV is a universal ode to being up to your neck in quicksand, sinking with little hope, but refusing to go down without a fight.