Recorded in front man Darren Haymen's bedroom, Dead Media brings hope to all home recorders who believe thousands of dollars spent on recording time in studios can be better spent on self-indulgent and outdated synthesizers. Taking a departure from last year's brilliant homage to urban romance, We Love the City, Dead Media leaves behind Hefner's previous hi-fi sound in favor of "private music that isn't made primarily with a listener in mind." (So says Haymen on the group's Web site, hefnet.com.) Other artists have made similar statements and hit it big with audiences; see Radiohead's Kid A. But then again some failed miserably; see also R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Luckily for Hefner it is neither Radiohead nor R.E.M.
The title track starts the disc, as Haymen sets the mood for the album ("The analogue image hits our poor tired retinas/We killed the digital whores last Thursday"); not to suggest the band is a bunch of neo-Luddites, but rather clever group hipsters from Essex that really dig their old keyboards. Other tracks on the album have Hefner wearing its electronic influences on its sequencers...um, sleeves. "Trouble Kid" carries with it a Roland Juno keyboard solo from the Ms. Gary Numan school of our perpetual song filler. Instrumental nuggets of beauty like "Union Chapel Boy" and "Treacle" aren't developed into what could be a genuine foray into an interesting idea, but in the end fall two and a half minutes short of doing so. Standout singalong tracks such as "Half A Life," "The King of Summer" and the NASA-inspired "Alan Bean" (a tale of the fourth astronaut on the moon who gave up his career to be a painter) unfortunately cannot balance out the true stinkers like "Peppermint Taste" and "The Nights Are Long."
It's easier to fall in love with the idea of Hefner, rather than Hefner itself. Penning Morrissey-esque couplets like, "Love me quick with slutty lips, but let my conscience be/When we're rich and famous we won't have our privacy" (in "Waking Up to You") leaves the listener wanting more, and Dead Media doesn't deliver. There are a few gems on this record, but nothing comparable to the former glory of songs like "The Hymn for the Alcohol" or "Good Fruit." Still, I wouldn't discount Hefner's Dead Media, but then again I wouldn't pay retail.
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