’m not one for outtakes, expanded editions, special editions, archival collections, and suchlike. I’m certainly one for buying them—I’m a collector-scum geek if there ever was one—but I never bother listening to them. They’re strictly for feeding my neuroses, for the shelf, for filing. That’s my easiest way of telling you that this one is great, a whole two CDs of unreleased tracks by Hefner that I can’t stop listening to—well parts of ‘em at least. A collection that’s as good as, and an ideal companion to, the recent Hefner Best Of and solo album by group main man Darren Hayman.
For almost their entire career Hefner were a one-note band. But it was a good note—one that’s still worth hearing and one that’s still powerful; a productive rut of rutting, of endless tales of the insularity of the lovers discourse, of two people wrapped up together in defiance of the only thing that Hayman can bring himself to hate; the fascists, the Thatcherites, the Greedy, Ugly People. Even then he can only hate them when they’re in multiple, a shadowy mass entirely separate from himself and his love; the first line on this CD, sung over gently see-sawing harmonium, is “the night she got the swastika tattoo, her lips were cherry red, her eyes were sapphire blue.”
The best Hefner songs (and there are some of them here) are almost-narratives and not-quite-finished heartbreaking stories—Hayman writes about joyous, dirty, and surprising sex better than anyone this side of Missy Elliott, but inevitably becomes arrested at the post-coital stage, lazing blissed out, wrapped up in dirty sheets. These songs are masturbatory, incapable of reaching a conclusion, forever chasing down circular rabbit holes. Ideas are constantly rethought but endlessly the same. That’s OK—that’s how my mind works too. The music is almost uniformly mid-paced, an ideal frame for the words but also satisfying in its undemonstrative balance and sense of space; it sounds simple until you wonder why other Angloid indie kids feel like they’re straining twice as hard for half the effect. The disc of their earlier songs is early-Stereolab meets Canned Heat chug that provides impetus to the words; the later work expands their palette to include piano, synth, and infinite washes of steel guitar.
I’d quote some of the best lyrics but, as with all those hip-hop reviews that try to do the same, they’d sound worse without context and grain of voice. It would be better if you discover them for yourself. Suffice it to say that Hefner know that it’s the imperfections that make the perfect so much more so, whether it’s the cheating or chubbiness or whatever. They know that how you fuck someone manifests your politics more than anything else. They know that girls really like to fuck—and not just as some form of psychic commerce. Even in this age of hypersexualised R&B, how many bands show that they know that? Hefner’s is a world of tuff rock’n’roll girls who turn out to be shy in bed and librarians in cardigans who push your arm up behind your back till it hurts a bit too much. (Girls, twist these archetypes to reflect your life as you wish; Hefner can do it convincingly, I can’t.)
It’s ironic that a double CD of off-cuts with a track calling for rockstars to learn when to fucking shut up is one of the best things released this year. And, sure, there are tracks here that are included here simply because of a good song title. But whether I’m heartbroken or besotted Hefner can make me cry. And if I’m neither Hefner make me cry because I realize I am actually one or the other. Readers interested in random, unsatisfying sex can get in touch with me on the email address below.
Reviewed by: Patrick McNally
Reviewed on: 2006-09-27