Album Review : The Heavy - Hurt & the Merciless (2016)
I first came across The Heavy when a middle-aged man named Tony Lucca belted their classic hit How You Like Me Now? for a crowd of over-excited Californian kids on Season 2 of The Voice, a couple months before the release of their iconic record The Glorious Dead. That fucking record was so poised and energetic, it should've brought Babylon down. But it didn't. It didn't do bad and I was lucky enough to catch them at Osheaga Festival the following year, but the band toured what it had to tour and went back under. To my great surprise, they released an album last year called Hurt & the Merciless to no fanfare whatsoever. What the fuck? Why didn't I hear about this in 2016? I gave it a handful of spins looking for answers and got what I was looking for.
For better or worse.
If Hurt & the Merciless didn't build on the immense sonic and commercial achievement The Glorious Dead was (that record is so fucking good), well it's because it...has no soul? I mean, the only common trait The Heavy's latest album has with its predecessor is its energy. It's bouncing off the wall and it's still very danceable. I'm sure it's a riot to hear live. My problem is that many bands are energetic and danceable. What made The House That Dirt Built and The Glorious Dead is that they were multifaceted beasts. They were danceable, but they offered satisfying signalongs, it was great in your pump-up mix, it was fuck-you music when you needed it to be. There's none of that on Hurt & the Merciless. It breaks my heart to say this about one of my favorite bands, but The Heavy sounds like a wedding band version of themselves on this.
There are good songs on Hurt & the Merciless but there aren't any great ones. I've enjoyed What Happened to the Love? simple dance rock approach with a guitar, organ and soulful harmonies. It's the only chorus on the album that I've ever muttered, but it's a fun one. I've enjoyed Miss California, but I would've appreciated its broken melancholy better on an album that wouldn't try so hard to get me off my butt. The majority of Hurt & the Merciless is fast, groovy, gimmicky and mostly features this obnoxious and monolithic brass section that never fucking goes away. A brass section is something you usually build towards in rock songs, but here it's in your face and all the fucking time, and it gets annoying after a while. On Turn Up, it blares the same notes over and over again like an unanswered ringtone. I thought I was losing my goddamn mind.
Don't get me wrong. Hurt & the Merciless isn't an unlistenable turd. It's a pleasant record that got pleasant reviews *, but it's so, so not up to The Heavy's standards. Perhaps the only infuriating song on it is Nobody's Hero, which is a blatant attempt at recapturing the success of their iconic ballad Short Change Hero from The House That Dirt Built. I mean, it's as blatant as Godsmack recording a slow, eerie song that sounds mysteriously a lot like Voodoo on every subsequent album of theirs. That brings me to the demon who I believe overtook this album: lack of inspiration. The Heavy didn't seem to know what to do with themselves on Hurt & the Merciless and just cranked fast and festive rock songs one after the other. They're not exactly experimenting. Their talent and identity are undeniable on them, they're Heavy songs. They just sounds exactly like one another.
And I'm speaking from a place of love, here. The Heavy is one of my favorite bands. They mastered the art of injecting originality and purpose in commercial rock. The House That Dirt Built was a self-aware journey of personal and musical exploration. Maybe it's unfair to compare any album to The Glorious Dead, but it was such a masterpiece where monsters allegories and songs about relationship coexisted to create something new and unique together. There's never been anything like that in rock n' roll. The overarching theme on Hurt & the Merciless is disastrous relationships and general heartbreak, which would be great if it wasn't the theme of most generic rock songs. The lyrics general songwriting also took a major step backwards. Lots of choruses repeat the same word over and over again. Songs like Mean Ol' Man will wear you the fuck down. Hurt & the Merciless just doesn't have the deceptive complexity and the catchiness of its predecessors.
So, there you have it. Hurt & the Merciless is neither bad or unpleasant, it's just...frustrating? It's the unsalted, unsweetened and unflavored version of the gourmet five-stars meals they got me used to on The House That Dirt Built and The Glorious Dead. They can do so much better than that. When I press play on a Heavy album, I want songs like The Big Bad Wolf that I can blow some steam to when thing aren't going my way or like How You Like Me Now? when things are. I want their songs to have their own individual identity and the album to reflect unique and different ideas each time because I know the band is capable to. Hurt & the Merciless offered pleasant music, but none of these things that make The Heavy such a special band. Am I crazy for holding them to their own standards of excellence? What did you think of the album? Am I right to feel brokenhearted by its blandness?