When Hefner released Dead media in 2001 it wasn’t well received by critics or fans and sales were poor compared to the previous release We Love The City. I was one of those disappointed fans, I’d loved the single ‘Alan Bean’ but found the overall starkness of the album difficult and wanted more straight forward pop loveliness like ‘Good Fruit’ or bedroom anthems like ‘The Hymn for the Cigarettes’ from their previous albums..
Dead Media has received the same double disc deluxe treatment as the previous Hefner albums and it is the perfect time to reevaluate the collection that sent Darren Hayman’s career into a tailspin (his words not mine). The first and clearest point to make is that listening to the album now I can’t see what my own fuss was about. The use of analogue synths and sounds is less pervasive than I remember, some songs are very traditional Hefner in terms of arrangements. Equally, some of the songs where the synths are used most heavily are the best tracks on the collection and fit the Hefner themes perfectly. ‘When The Angels Play Their Drum Machines’ is a perfect example of this and one of the best tracks on the album.
‘China Crisis’, a duet with Amelia Fletcher, would have fit perfectly on any Hefner record from The Fidelity Wars onwards and is as good as any song they released in their career. The aforementioned ‘Alan Bean’ is another highlight and uses a less-remembered figure from history to explore some universal themes, as well as introducing us to Hayman’s interest in space exploration.
The record is far from perfect though, the scattered instrumentals seem unnecessary and the breadth of mood can seem jarring. Listening to ‘Trouble Kid’ now (a song I liked most at the time of the original release) I’m left wondering at what point Hayman woke up and decided it would be a good idea for the band to sound like an Essex Devo. These criticisms aside it is a strong album that deserves a better place in the band’s history and the fact that the album starts with the downbeat sparseness of ‘Dead Media’ and finishes with the bouncy folk of ‘Home’ is testament to musical ambition that deserves our appreciation.
This deluxe release features a bumper crop of b-sides, session tracks, remixes (including one by Mute records main-man Daniel Miller) and the whole of the Hefner Brain EP. Listening to the Hefner Brain tracks in particular I’m left wondering whether it would have been the smarter move to substitute some of the excellent synth tracks on the EP with some of the more traditional tracks used on the album and dive in with more commitment to the new sound. Also featured on the second disc is ‘Gabriel In The Airport’ one of the excellent tracks that would turn up on the album Hayman released with Hefner bassist John Morrison as The French after Hefner ceased to be.
All in all this is an excellent package and a great opportunity for new listeners to hear an underrated part of the Hefner back catalogue and, for those that rejected the album at the time, to give it a second chance.
By Dorian Rogers