It has been at least a year since I last saw Hope of the States. They exploded onto my musical radar after I attended a NME show in 2003. The band were the first act and as they came on stage in their matching American civil war costumes and the music started I almost instinctively knew that I was about to witness something amazing. This live flirtation would continue as I went to see them in a variety of London venues and even attended a secret gig of theirs at a pub in North London.
I’ve now had a little bit of a break with their music and the band have now released a new album entitled Left. For some reason I’m slightly nervous about this – I don’t know why, I haven’t heard the album but I have seen the video of their new single. In it, the band look like they’re being electrocuted and it’s a got a pop-rock vibe.
The venue tonight was Camden’s Koko. It’s been beautifully restored with a lot of the old architectural detail reinforced by the classy gold and red colour scheme. The venue oozes class and doesn’t have the downright grimey feel of many of London venues. In many respects this has been created to satisfy the newfound popularity of gig-going. It may also have explained the distinct lack of interest by those crowding at the bar. The chatter was non-stop throughout the gig and perhaps the acoustics are to blame but it resonated throughout the venue.
The band came on and immediately blitzed through a ragged version of their ‘hit’ single ‘The Red The White The Black The Blue’. This is my favourite song of theirs so I was a little disappointed with the lack of care and attention played to my darling, but the boys on stage had obviously wanted to get this song out of the way so to speak. However, with some of their other older songs the band were more respectful, which led the crowd to responded better.
The vast majority of their new material was, to be quite blunt, awful. It simply did not resonate with me at all. It may be because I haven’t listened to it in more detail but gone is the folk/heavy rock mix with a pinch of Radiohead thrown in to be replaced by plodding, cliché-ridden rock. It is even more surprising that this should be the case when the band in the past have refused to conform to industry standards. Perhaps this is down to the pressure of the record company? “Well boys we’ve invested heavily in you and it’s about time that you delivered a return for us”, I can hear the suited advisers say. I just feel that their new music doesn’t show the liberty, freshness and honesty that their old work did. They’ve gone from being one of the most exciting and independent acts around to being another Interpol clone band. And I hate Interpol. I certainly was right to be nervous about their new material.
However, the older songs still continue to astound both in their musical construction and the fact that it sounds like nothing else out there. ‘Nehemiah’ and especially ‘George Washington’ are among some of the best songs to have been written in the UK in the 21st century. The encore was equally as blistering. ‘Enemies/Friends’ is still one of the most amazingly difficult songs to categorise, (expect that it firmly lies in the ‘good’ category), new track ‘January’ is possibly the best of the new songs on show tonight and ‘Black Stars, Red Stars’ remains an amazing closer to the set.
The band has also moved on with their stage show. Their previous concerts had a whole visual show projected onto the big screen. The visuals would be modified and updated in real-time by someone who was orchestrating the show with a laptop. This has been replaced by in-your-face cameras that close into the features of the band members. Only occasionally did graphics replace the video footage as it had done in the past. However the whole visual element to a Hope of the States show has remained interesting and is as different to any other band out there as can be.
Hope of the States have always been ‘difficult’, refusing to conform is one thing but when the band turned their back completely on their ‘old’ sound they did themselves a great injustice. Their new material is most definitely the weaker but let’s hope that the third album will be better constructed and more thoroughly thought through. The frustrating thing is that you know that the band is capable of writing and performing amazing songs (they even do it in the same concert when they play their older material) but for whatever reason they chose not to do it with their new material. It has been especially hard to write this review because I had such a love affair with the band but I can’t help feeling that sometimes it is kinder to be cruel. Let’s hope that they return to their past form with their next album, before they disappear into the musical ether.
The Red The White The Black The Blue
This is a Question
Black dollar bills
Sing it out
The Good Fight
The Church Choir
Black stars, Red stars