Hefner’s ‘Breaking God’s Heart’ was their debut album, introduced to the world in 1998. It was released on Too Pure Records, a relationship that would prove contentious in their future. It was a raw, lo-fi album recorded in not much more than one take. The content revolves around religious imagery, original sin and angelic visions of prospective love. This is complicated by living in a secular society where one night stands and complex relationships emerge; where gratification is rife and morality loose. It was recorded in Glasgow and certainly has that pop sound similar to that of Belle and Sebastian, though Hefner’s sound is punkier; the vocals are raw (though proficient) and the production values low.
The first side of the album is truly successful at exploring these ideas of messy sex and fantasy. The opener ‘The Sweetness Lies Within’ starts with a slow off key strum, before Darren Hayman’s vocal comes in, detuned and almost warped sounding, “There’s just a sea between us”. The track gradually picks up pace with strings and snare building to the chorus “It’s the grace that you hide, it’s the sweetness lies within.” The song builds to a crescendo, one last chorus of heartfelt emotion before coming to an abrupt halt. This is one of the highlights of the record.
‘Love Will Destroy Us in the End’, the fourth song, really stands out – starting with a dull clank of a steel string, Hayman proclaims “1, 2,… It’s the children that I feel for, it’s the children make me feel more.” The tune bounds along with a sense of abandonment. There are definite touches of The Smiths here, but with a looser more anarchistic edge. The stripped down chorus with Hayman stating “It’s the look in the eye of those one night stands that gives us the will to survive.” is a robust statement. As an anthem to the lure of nihilism, it’s hard to beat.
There are many heartbreakingly beautiful songs around the subject of unrequited love on this album, all of them with stunning lyrics of the awkward modern age. The album was a great start for the band and they were quickly picked up by John Peel. The band went on to release three more albums – the third; ‘We Love the City’ saw the band adopt a more produced sound. Hefner split up in 2002. Since then Darren Hayman in particular has gone on to form a number of bands and side projects including ‘The French’, which explored a hypnotic electronic tone, Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern, and ‘Thankful Villages’. The latter describes a tour of villages where no one was killed during the First World War – it involves folk songs, intertwined choral harmonies and field recordings.
‘Breaking God’s Heart’ was a record that described a return to DIY and punk when it wasn’t fashionable. In the late ’90s most were riding on the wave of economic prosperity. Bands like Hefner were some of the few that insisted upon their own values and criticism. Have a re-listen as it is certainly a great take on that time and remains a heart-tugger to the last.
Fraisia Dunn looks back at Hefner’s Breaking God’s Heart 18 years after its release.