Ever go to a gig and catch a whiff of bullshit in the air? Yeah, you know – the band can play, the songs are OK, they tick the right boxes. It’s loud and hard enough. . . but you find yourself wondering why people are applauding, because something essential is missing. There’s no sense of commitment, no sense of danger, no sense of urgency. It’s just a band and a crowd going through the motions. This is not something that ever happens at a show by HITS.
A friend of mine from HITS’ hometown of Brisbane, Australia had been telling me for ages that I HAD to see this band. So in May 2012, I found myself in Brittany, France, watching HITS tear up Le Vauban in Brest. And the next night, flooring a capacity crowd at the legendary rock venue Le Galion in Lorient. And the next night, rattling the stone walls of a tiny venue in Lannion. The gigs were staggering, and the Bretons and I were blown away. Frontman “Evil” Dick Richards is a hell of a performer, but you can tell it’s not artifice – he is genuinely driven to pour absolutely everything into a show. Tamara Dawn Bell and Stacey Coleman are a devastating twin-guitar attack, while bassplayer Andy Buchanan and drummer Gregor “Samoa” Mulvey are one of the best rhythm sections ever to shake a foundation. There are only a handful of bands in the world worth seeing three nights in a row, but by Jesus F Christ, HITS are certainly one of them.
This month, HITS release their second album, Hikikomori (a Japanese word for acute social withdrawal), and it’s a remarkable distillation of their live brilliance. Produced by Radio Birdman/New Christs frontman Rob Younger – an obvious influence on Evil Dick – it achieves a level of consistency that surpasses their excellent 2009 debut Living With You is Killing Me. Five years is a long time between drinks, but it has been worth the wait.
“On the road to rock’n’roll, there’s a lot of wreckage in the ravine,” Joe Strummer once sang. Lyrically, HITS drive dangerously close to the edge, as in the opener ‘Bullet Train’ – a tale of hostility, violence and sex kits that leads Evil Dick to conclude “this is terminal, baby”. Once you’re on this ride, there’s no getting off.
‘Jesus F Christ’ struts like Mick Jagger experiencing a psychotic reaction, and still remains loud and libidinous. The sinister riff of ‘Bitter and Twisted’ bursts into the room menacingly, looking for an excuse to cause trouble and finding it. It’s a descent into a maelstrom of madness, a study in self-loathing without ever wallowing in self-pity, ending with a cataclysmic series of howls and an apocalyptic guitar squall outro that both disturbs and amazes. If this sounds like confrontational listening, it certainly is, but it’s also incredibly cathartic – music for people who could identify with ol’ Charles Bukowski when he said: “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”
‘Disappointed’ is jangly guitar glory, slightly reminiscent of Straitjacket Fits with Shayne Carter at his lyrically cutting best. Dealing with the crushing weight of other people’s expectations, it emerges battered but triumphant. ‘Up in The Air’ is as close as HITS will ever get to a song you could play in a convertible with the top down – after you’ve crashed it and the police have been called.
‘G-Banger’ and ‘Loose Cannons’ pile on the riffs and the tales of misdeeds and consequences – ferocious songs that highlight the guitar work and harmonies of Bell and Coleman. They play it fairly straight with a cover of Joy Division‘s ‘Shadowplay’, losing none of the original’s hair-trigger tension, but the ferocious delivery makes it sound something like Sonic’s Rendezvous Band in full flight.
The closer, “Lost in the Somme”, is a five-minute epic saluting a late soldier – Evil Dick’s great-grandfather, who died in France in World War I. It’s a meditation on how a forbear you never met can still be an important figure in your life, starting out at breakneck, scattergun speed before tumbling into the trenches and rising phoenix-like on the back of an astonishing riff. Despite the song’s length, it ends up seeming all too brief, like so many lives of the fallen.
HITS’ commitment to their cause is total, and Hikikomori grows in stature with each listen. I, for one, will be listening to it as long as my ears work. Let’s just hope that we get to see them play live in Norway next time they come to Europe.