Words by Chiara Strazzulla
Every new band, at one point, has to face the challenge of that one show where you end up playing to an audience of five people, two of which have been brought along by a mate who has been telling them this is the next big thing but are not entirely sure this is true. You can put in minimal effort and just power through it, or you can do it gracefully and somehow still deliver a show to be remembered – the kind of show those five audience members will bring up some years later in the inevitable ‘oh yes, I was there when they started’ conversation.
Hotel Lux did the latter, and did it perhaps more impressively than any other new band in recent years. Perhaps it is because they really were, after all, the next big thing.
Photo credit: Franck Alix
Had you been there at one of those early shows, it is likely that you would have heard Vice on the setlist. Day-one fans of the band will remember this track, which has long sought a place in Hotel Lux’s studio output and has now finally found it as the first single to be released after the excellent and long-awaited first album, Hands Across the Creek, in a less polished, more visceral incarnation.
New fans who have been – understandably – seduced by the sharpness of the long player will find in it a glimpse of the band’s earlier experimentation, and an interesting snapshot of an intermediate phase in the evolution of Hotel Lux’s voice. It could be regarded, in a sense, as the missing link between the band’s early singles (think of the hugely successful The Last Hangman) and their first EP, Barstool Preaching, which remains one of the most effective portraits-through-music of working-class Britain in the post-Brexit years.
It might actually be the most Hotel Lux song so far, bringing together the band’s different souls.
There is more, though, to the present version of Vice than pure early-days nostalgia; it is clear that the band has not just perfunctorily gone through the motions of taking this track to the studio. They have, instead, reconsidered it, re-thought it, run it through the filter of the much more mature voice they’ve built in the process of creating the album, and given it a new incarnation that remains faithful to that small grassroots club atmosphere while daring to aim, sound-wise, for something bigger and broader.
Rarely has there been a band that is at the same time so in tune with the times and so completely against the tide as Hotel Lux, and this, too, is reflected in Vice: in the way the track is built, in the way it sounds, and in the mood it evokes. It is closer to the EP than to the album in that it is Brit-rock seen through a punk lens, something like an unholy child of the Clash and early Oasis with a tinge of The Fall; it is uniquely Hotel Lux in its vocals, locally bordering on spoken-word and sacrificing form to expressiveness in a way that gives the track the punch it needs to be truly effective, and in the presence of a broad, sing-along-friendly section that is almost a chorus, such as we have seen on prior releases like English Disease.
It is a short, snappy song that manages to pack some complexity of structure into a runtime of a mere three minutes and a half, leading with the most classic bit of guitar strumming, then ramping up more and more and narrowly avoiding chaos on the outro to close on a softer note. It is close to the band’s earliest singles, which have after all their roots in the same era – such as Envoi – in the cleverness of making something fairly complex out of the sum of simple parts and in the boldness of attaching fairly cerebral lyrics to a punchy, direct sound. It has a whiff of that buzzing South London scene in which Hotel Lux have found their natural place, more in the atmosphere it summons than in the technicalities of the songwriting itself. It might actually be the most Hotel Lux song so far, bringing together the band’s different souls.
Those who have heard an early version of Vice at some pre-lockdown gig may find it interesting to compare their memories with this new take, and spot the differences: a new intro which sounds heavily informed by the soundscape of the album, on which the band was working as they recorded this; a more varied and sophisticated, though no less gut-driven, approach to the vocals, lead and backing alike.
The spirit of the song, though, remains the same; but it would be impossible to deny that Vice is now perfectly equipped to confront a much larger audience.
Catch Hotel Lux live:
17th Sept - Leffingeleuren, Belgium 28th Sept - Fano, Bagni Elsa, Italy 29th Sept - Milan, Arci Bellezza, Italy 30th Sept - Bologna, Covo Club, Italy 1st Oct - Sestri Levante, Genova, Italy 6th Oct - Athens, Death Disco, Greece
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