On their debut disc, Aussie inner-city-country types the Spoils map a failed relationship in a gracefully structured album that’s worthy for its sense of restraint and understatement. Although the songs deal in the trappings of heartache — morning drinking sessions, half-smoked cigarettes, ripping the ex-girlfriend’s photos off the wall — there is a sense of emotional distance, of misery once removed, that makes the hurt feel wry rather than raw.
Hurtsville is subdivided into two “acts”, bordered by an instrumental intermission. Act I is soaked in alcoholic self-pity, angst and indecision; Act II deals with the fallout of a breakup and all the attendant remiss, regret and recriminations: “It could have been the alcohol, it could have been the fight…/Whatever is the reason, what’s been done can’t be undone”.
Guitarist Jon Shannon’s call-out backing vocals, often a split second behind Sean Simmons’ ragged lead vocals, evoke a Jagger/Richards swagger, and the eight-strong honky gospel choir on “Gimme Some Love” is pure “Sweet Virginia”. The Stones comparisons are inevitable, but it’s more inspiration than mimicry; the Spoils’ sound is lean and gritty, with plenty of harmonica, violin and lap steel, rendered at a subdued, spare pace. The songs break down and collapse into one another with some vainglorious flourishes that might have seemed overindulgent in less assured hands.
The Spoils maintain a fierce dignity amongst the dirty ashtrays of the morning after the night before — a kind of gutter aristocracy which is oddly, and compellingly, attractive.