Following up their chart-topping debut, Hard-Fi may have just released the biggest British rock album of the year. The follow-up, Once Upon a Time in the West, is bigger, stronger, more anthemic, and puts them high on the list of cockney achievements in the last several years. With chugging rhythms, arena-sized riffs, and pub chants, it has a lot of what British rock is all about.
Much like their debut, Stars of CCTV, each track on Once Upon a Time in the West has a single-worthy sound. They’ve diversified their ability to write catchy tunes on more intent melodies and a wider range of speeds. From the opening "HeyyX3/OhhX3/Ahhx3" of "Suburban Knights", it’s apparent they’re bent on having their songs hummed on street corners all over the UK.
From the strong Brit-rock tempos to singer Richard Archer’s thick drawl to the mention of British towns in "We Need Love", Once Upon a Time in the West is a throughly British album, and is sure to succeed in the charts accordingly. "I Shall Overcome" features a chorus that swells with strings and backing vocals – a style that exists only in the UK. "Tonight" has chanting similar to "Suburban Knights" that are hopelessly catchy and can’t help but exude strength in numbers. "Watch Me Fall Apart" carries the backing chant theme even further. It’s amazing how often they employ this technique, but in different styles of songs.
The requisite of a great British rock album consists of some anthems, some soft ballads, some all-out rockers, and couple unexpected rhythms thrown in. Once Upon a Time in the West does, indeed, have all of these. "I Close My Eyes" is a gritty Clash-tinged crawler with a sour, but soaring, chorus. "Help Me Please" is a calm, slightly juvenile (but honest) cry for help highlighted by just a light acoustic guitar and cymbal. "We Need Love" rolls along a strong bassline that gives shout-outs to Birmingham, Liverpool, and Glasgow in a plea for peace. "Little Angel" is more massive, with brass fanfare, and "Can’t Get Along (Without You)" is a dance-hall anthem ready for radio. As far as a huge rock album goes, each track here is amazingly as strong, yet dissimilar, as the one before it.
Anyone worried about a sophomore slump from Hard-Fi after their debut reached #1 should consider it no issue. Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the strongest rock albums of the year from top to bottom. It’s a hell of start to their careers, and have simultaneously pushed their progression and profits up at the same time.