Country mouse

When Darren Hayman claims he’s “competent, not merely adequate,” he’s really saying something. Lead singer and songwriter for Hefner, British indie rockers and professional cynics, Hayman is such a sad sack that when he bothers to stick up for himself at all it’s like he’s Muhammad Ali representin’ at a press conference.

More than anything else, he suffers from a sort of slacker social anxiety. Listening to the folk-pop mélange that is We Love the City, you can almost hear him mumbling to himself about how the world sucks and how he has this nagging suspicion that he sucks too, and how he’s sure that you don’t really even care, anyway. Ironic title in tow (he doesn’t actually love the city, get it?), he sets out to gibe London and all its spiritually bankrupt inhabitants, but his own problems keep getting in the way. That’s understandable: When you’re so busy trying to come up with pretty melodies and totally satiric conceits, it’s easy to conflate girl troubles and the slow decline of the British Empire.

If this mishmash of whiney motifs would seem to make for icky singer-songwriter fare or shambling lo-fi, you should know that although Hayman’s nasal crooning dominates, he’s got a big bag of tricks for a guy so down on himself. Mellotron, synths, piano, horns and female vocals accompany his indistinct guitar squalls, and attention to detail particularly benefits the lush and endearing “Good Fruit.”

“The Day That Thatcher Dies” and “The Greedy Ugly People” are surprisingly poppy and upbeat, given their libelous titles — which is probably a smarmy, ironic thang, just like how Hayman loves the city because it lets him down, loves to be in love but hasn’t really ever loved and finds himself the victim of at least a dozen other of the world’s cruelest paradoxes. Then again, he’s got his simply snide moments too: “Thatcher” sports a kiddie choir chanting “Ding, dong, the witch is dead,” and if that’s not Pink Floyd enough for you, Hayman adopts Roger Waters’ wicked schoolmaster’s voice for “Painting and Kissing.”

“This is Sixth Form poetry,” he remarks at a particularly telling moment. Lucky for him, it ain’t so bad as pop music.

E-mail Christian Hoard at [email protected].

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