One of the biggest treats of 2005, Hard-Fi's single 'Hard to Beat' ticked loads of boxes - perhaps most importantly the one that said it could be played after a Clash song and still sound good.

And if their debut album 'Stars of CCTV' didn't contain anything quite so special, at least the quartet from Ali G's home turf had shown such heights weren't beyond them.

While 'Once Upon...' does cover much of the same musical and lyrical territory as 'Stars of...', it also shows a band who don't want to be ghettoised as some kind of purveyors of asbo rock by the media - string sections, more ballads and nods to Morricone all feature.

But despite that growing sense of adventure, this record never yields anything as colossal as 'Hard to Beat', the problem being that the songs aren't strong enough to make Hard-Fi stand out from other bands. The longer you listen the more you're convinced a rougher production was needed to help their cause – the sound here is too glossy.

With the quartet's devotion to the gang chorus and the likes of 'Television' and 'Can't Get Along Without You', this album will result in plenty more platinum discs and terrace-style chants, but given their aspirations to be as consistent as Massive Attack, The Specials and Strummer and Co, there's some work to be done.

Harry Guerin