Atlantic Records - 2005 - 45 mins
Three years ago, Mike Skinner's The Streets shot to fame with 'Original Pirate Material', a garage album telling stories of what might latterly be termed the life of a 'chav'. That record surprised many with the extent of its appeal to the wider music-buying public.
Given the continued success of The Streets, then, it's probably not as surprising that this collection of songs from the urban wasteland recorded in a former cab office for just a few hundred pounds was snapped up by Warner Music's Atlantic Records and given a major label-funded revamp.
Album opener and the group's first single, 'Cash Machine', tells a familiar story of working class frustration at living from one wage packet to another. Crisis pregnancy groups are not likely to be pleased with the final verse, which details the story of man running out on his pregnant girlfriend after unprotected sex.
An early highlight is 'Tied Up Too Tight', which features a guitar and synth backing that sounds like it was devised by The Killers. 'Gotta Reason' is a funkier offering that is almost Prince-like in its exultation of love as the centre of the universe, and has a bridge line so blatant even the diminutive master of love lyrics would be proud of it: 'I want to eat you up like food/Baby, let's generate some heat'.
Dance floor romance 'Hard To Beat', which also doesn't mince its words, is the most catchy song on the record and has already been the group's biggest hit. Slow piano ballad 'Move On Now', which tells the opposite story, that of the break up, is reminiscent of Mike Skinner's crossover hit from last year, 'Dry Your Eyes'. The emphasis on post-relationship despondency is the same, while Hard-Fi have a trumpet solo to compete with the string refrain in 'Dry Your Eyes'.
'Better Do Better' returns to the garage ethic, with a rap mid section airing defiance in the face of a cheating girlfriend seeking a second chance. 'Feltham Is Singing Out' is another one for the boys, with a football chant-like chorus sign that belies the fact Hard-Fi are singing about the local Young Offenders' Institute. 'Living For The Weekend' returns to the theme of working all week in order to blow everything on the weekend as espoused in the opening track.
The title track and album closer is probably the best song musically on 'Stars of CCTV', combining inventive electric guitar and piano lines. It also sees lead singer Richard Archer trying his hand at falsetto, with not unimpressive results. The implication of the lyrics ('I want to see my face on the six o'clock news.../flashing blue dots - camera, action!') may be seen by some as a glorification of anti-social behaviour, but it's probably safe to say Hard-Fi aren't too bothered about causing offence.
They may be at long odds behind Mercury favourites The Kaiser Chiefs, but don't bet against their success among those with The Streets in their record collection.
Tracklisting: Cash Machine - Middle Eastern Holiday - Tied Up Too Tight - Gotta Reason - Hard To Beat - Unnecessary Toruble - Move On Now - Better Do Better - Feltham is Singing Out - Living for the Weekend - Stars of CCTV.