Out there, somewhere, there’s a parallel universe where Hey Sholay are selling out arenas, breaking America and dating women twice their age. Through that wormhole, One Direction are signing a deal with Fierce Panda instead of Syco, working their way around the country’s cosier indie venues and fighting for a place on the 6Music playlist. It’s a wonderful world, where ((O)) is outselling 21 ten-to-one and the bookies are slashing the odds on it winning the Mercury Music Prize.
In our universe though, Hey Sholay look through these human eyes like a boyband trapped in the bodies of a deliriously psychedelic prog-rock collective. Here on Earth, they’re a band of irreconcilable contradictions – they write impeccable pop songs on guitars they’ve customised with mad musical gadgets; they release one single (‘Wishbone’) that gets played by Fearne Cotton on Radio 1 and release another (‘Dreamboat’) on a USB stick stuffed inside a rubber foetus. The fact is, here on this boring old planet of ours, pop groups releasing tracks that come with free umbilical cord necklaces just isn’t the tried and tested route to commercial success. And that’s why, no matter how much we bang on about them, there’s a good chance you’ve got no idea who Hey Sholay are.
Well, there’s five of them, they’re from Sheffield and Leeds, one of them was in thisGIRL (that sounds made up, but it isn’t) and they make the idea of combining 'jangly', 'guitar' and 'pop' sound like one of the most groundbreaking concepts in contemporary music. With a couple of exceptions which we’ll come to, ((O)), their debut album, plays like a Greatest Hits. They muster more sing-along choruses than Harry Styles attracts teenage fangirls, without any of their hooks sounding like hits we’re bored of hearing.
The stroppy, searing sentimentality of ‘Wishbone (Wish Wish Wish)’, the weary hysteria of ‘My Blood’, the hopscotch hooting and howling of ‘Dreamboat’ – they don’t just stick with you because they’re catchy. Even after only a couple of listens, these songs burn brightly in your brain cells like the best of memories, moments to be cherished as much as forming a new friendship or driving home from work early on a sunny summer afternoon. There’s an optimism in Hey Sholay’s music that never comes close to getting on your nerves. On ‘Burning’, they even make your house going up in flames sound like a cause for celebration or a blessing in disguise.
Best of all is ‘The Bears, The Clocks, The Bees’, a song far too linear for me to even consider referencing One Direction again. Typically this is the track that closes Hey Sholay’s live shows, though here it comes in on track four. Regardless, it remains a near-flawless piece of music, from its brilliantly tuneful opening verses, becoming a work of kraut-psychedelic genius as the drums accelerate, the electro arpeggios overwhelm the band’s signature guitar chime and Liam Creamer’s vocals become all the more animated, agitated and engrossing. It’s a song to make you sweat as you sing your heart out to its hyperbolic, hypnotic refrain.
Nine-minute closer ‘Golden Is The Colour Of The Sun (Run Rabbit)’ has an altogether darker hue. Initially set in the same spooky forest as Radiohead’s ‘There There’, it slowly beams you up to the starry sky above and into its effervescent ambience. Unfortunately the laid back cosmic approach doesn’t work quite so well on ‘Go Easy Tiger’ and ‘Ol’ St. Nick’ – both are neat little guitar-pop packages wrapped up in dreamy synths and feathery guitars, but they’re neither as instantly gratifying nor as infectiously ambitious as what’s on offer elsewhere on ((O)).
Set those minor forgettable moments to one side though, and Hey Sholay have made an album that deserves a place at the top of the charts. ((O)) won’t make it there though – not for any lack of pop nous, but because it’s just a little too odd, a little too eccentric and, perhaps, just a little too interesting to compete with any of the current top 40 crop. They’ll just have to make do with the knowledge that out there, somewhere, they’re megastars.
8Robert Cooke's Score