Review: Hotel Lux – Hands Across The Creek

Artwork for Hotel Lux's 2023 debut album Hands Across The Creek

Hotel Lux find the back of the net on their long-awaited debut album.

As unwelcome as they were, the lockdowns brought about the opportunity for intense self-reflection and, in some cases, the steely determination to enact those changes when the world reopened.

Yet for London-via-Portsmouth’s Hotel Lux, any changes were seemingly unnecessary. Entrenched in the hallowed South London music scene, back in early 2020 the group were on the crest of wave.

Their early clattering pub-rock singles had received widespread acclaim and their Barstool Preaching EP had gained patronage from the likes of Iggy Pop, while a maiden appearance at SXSW beckoned before everything went upside down.

For the band’s members however, the self-analysis went further than deciding banana bread was the answer to their prayers. By bassist Cam Sims’ own admission the quartet, ‘always cared too much about how we were going to be perceived’, and concluded that they had been pandering to their audience rather than harness their individuality.

So, after recruiting new guitarist Max from fellow South Londoners LEGSS, Hotel Lux underwent an overhaul of their sound, incorporating the likes of Neil Young and Brian Eno to their influences.

The new guitarist has brought a scratchier dimension to the group without compromising their social commentary. Opening track Old Timer’s riff is wonky but welcoming, while singer Lewis Duffin immediately confronts the typical post-punk accusations (‘they reckon I can rip off The Fall’) and therefore liberates he and his bandmates even if his vocals are accordingly disgruntled.

Yet their evolution is showcased by the song’s key line, ‘I only saw my Dad cry once and that was at the football, I think that says an awful lot about masculinity’, alluding to the ‘macho Stone Island men’ who attend football matches and which Hotel Lux could previously rely on as their target audience.

The beautiful game is an undercurrent of the album; across trebly, bouncing guitars and a cantering beat, Duffin recalls the moment of realisation that is a rite of passage for most fans of the game on National Team: ‘There’s people my age that play for the national team.’

The swaggering instrumentation belies a new-found confidence that surely comes from finding their niche, while Strut could be a lost Blur single, all tongue-in-cheek jauntiness and scraggly, Coxon-esque guitar.

The group recruited Bill Ryder-Jones as both pianist and producer (even decamping to the Wirral for recording sessions) but while his presence can be felt on the likes of the skipping-yet-ramshackle Solidarity Song, it’s on two acoustic numbers where the former Coral man’s influence is most apparent.

The brittle sadness of Morning After Mourning is given real gravitas (‘so what’s the difference between right and wrong? I’ll put all my woes into a song’) while An Ideal For Living has frenzied acoustic strumming to go with a passionate vocal from guitarist Sam Coburn, even if his voice is an acquired taste.

As pleasant as the acoustic tracks are, Hotel Lux operate best when railing, whether it’s against the media on first single Common Sense (‘We’re so fuelled on apathy, it’s hard to care’), where waves of guitar sweep in and out, or on the unhinged Eastbound And Down, taken from Duffin’s experiences of working near Canary Wharf and observing those on higher salaries go about their day.

Kudos to Hotel Lux for taking the time to find their own voice, and there is much to enjoy on Hands Across The Creek, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that, sadly, against such competition their moment may have passed.

On the other hand, things in the UK aren’t improving so they may slot in seamlessly. Time will tell.

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