CD Review: The Hickey Underworld – ‘The Hickey Underworld’

By October 17, 2009 September 26th, 2013 CD

Quickly as you can – name me a famous Belgian… who isn’t Jean-Claude Van Damme…? No, Hercule Poirrot doesn’t count- he never actually existed. Neither does Tintin, because neither did he…

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Without access to an Internet search engine or a giant autobiographical dictionary, chances are that you’re not very likely to be able to name more than one or two without a great deal of thought. Spare a thought, then, for The Hickey Underworld – typing their name into Wikipedia merely names them as a “Belgian rock band”, which is not the most auspicious of beginnings. Delve a little deeper – try typing them into Google, that other fount of knowledge – and you’ll find more. The band’s own website is little more than a confusing, brightly-coloured mess of links and incongruous imagery. They constantly refer – rather annoyingly – to themselves in the third person and they look like escapees from the most pretentious art school imaginable…

It was perhaps understandable, therefore, that we sat down to listen to their self-titled new album with more than a little trepidation. Opening track ‘Zero Hour‘ did little to assague my fears, as though technically it was brilliant – plenty of tortured vocals, squealing guitars and thunderous drumming – we couldn’t help feeling that we’d stumbled back into another age, one where “emo” wasn’t just a dirty word used by right-wing newspapers looking to create another reason to fear teenagers or by vacuous fashionistas looking for their Next Big Thing. Track two on the album – ‘Sick Of Boys‘ provided more of the same, and it was only the third track- “Blonde Fire”- that really caused us to sit up and think of them as something other than the latest cookie-cutter Kerrang!-friendly fare.

No, this was something else. Coming on like the lovechild of Joy Division and The Cult, this track rolls and rumbles with a visceral ferocity possibly seen in one of their aforementioned countryman Van Damme’s punch-and-kick-em-up epics. Couple it with the eye-watering video that accompanies it – seemingly a twisted take on the Pygmalion myth in which strange young man in a dilapidated warehouse creates chaos out of order, with much use of skinned small animals and dismembered body parts- and you have a potential media firestorm sitting across the Channel. If you’ll pardon our abuse of the metaphor, that song is the spark that ignites the album and causes it to rage out of control – we can see it in our mind’s eye, sweeping across those much-maligned Lowlands in the blink of one heavily-linered eye and engulf us all.

It’s strange – I’d wanted to hate these four young men, but instead I now find myself rather ashamed. Preconceptions should be put aside- persevere with this and you’ll find it quite the classic. Or at the very least, you’ll be able to answer my opening question when someone asks you it…

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