Let’s face it, Van Hunt was never really a commercial artist, nor was he ever well-known, despite being signed to Capitol-EMI and releasing two albums for them before moving over to Blue Note in 2008, where he unfortunately left behind his third album, “Popular.” Therefore, it wouldn’t really be fair to say “What Were You Hoping For” was his first commercial album since 2006’s “On The Jungle Floor,” especially when it was exclusively released on his website in 2011.
Or at least it seemed that way until I just so happened to find a copy that was reduced all the way down to 99 cents in early 2017. The back cover clearly states that it was a local Australian release, yet it received no promotion at all. Furthermore, it didn’t even seem to be on that particular store’s shelves….. unless of course, it was skimmed over while browsing, or simply stashed away in the back room where nobody could ever see it.
But anyway, this isn’t about a certain big-named Australian “Hi Fi” chain not giving Van Hunt any recognition, it’s about what one particular person thinks of his overall fourth album, “What Were You Hoping For?” Can’t guarantee an answer, but here are some thoughts on each song:
North Hollywood: Certainly a much different opening song from Van Hunt, which initially starts out with drums, guitar and vocals, but then builds up to a hard-rocking guitar riff at about a minute and fifty seconds into the song. Lyrically it’s just a commentary on, well… North Hollywood. You really need to be patient and open-minded in order to fully appreciate this, or else you’re going to want to press the skip button very quickly.
Watching You Go Crazy Is Driving Me Insane: Long-time fans will know that Van Hunt was always a little rock influenced, but he’s NEVER done a song like this one before, which practically sounds like Punk. It damn near slaps you in the face the first time you hear it. Even though he’s telling his girlfriend that he’s going insane as he’s watching her go crazy, you can hear a lot of RAGE in this song as well. In fact, he even tells her that she can use his music as her punching bag. Damn! His vocals are still quite soulful, though.
Designer Jeans: A very cleverly-written social commentary about the era in which we live, where people are letting social media run their entire lives. They can post all kinds of things about themselves that don’t really matter to anybody else, such as their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, along with their sexual and racial identities. Or as Van himself states it: “People with nothing on their minds need only press a button to share online. Religion: Atheism, mass production and consumption of opinions.” Damn right. He compares the aforementioned attributes to wearing a pair of designer jeans, hence the name of the song. And he asks why we can’t be ourselves without having to advertise it all over the damn internet…. or rather, “selling it on a billboard.” What a great comparison.
Plum: Let’s just say Van is definitely not singing about fruit. This is clearly an ode to the female posterior and it’s written from quite a poetic standpoint. Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud: “Lord, why’d you give that girl a gorilla bump and make it the shape of a plum?/Don’t tell me how to hold my nuclear bomb til you’ve resisted the urge to love one,” runs the first chorus. The second chorus asks: “Lord, why’d you put that girl in an aquarium?” Quite a unique and creative lyric. You can picture everything that Van is singing about in your mind, especially when he describes the way she sways to the shower. Towards the end of the song, he slows his voice down, which is quite reminiscent of Prince… as is the overall sound of this tune.
Falls (Violet): Van Hunt goes country western. Or at least that’s what the intro sounds like, as it features a twangy slide guitar riff that almost resembles a banjo. It still wouldn’t be the first time he’s ever experimented with country, though. He really stretches his vocals on this one and it sounds fantastic: “Give ‘em what they want and all they want is more…. you asked me to be here…. but I had to get high,” which of course he sings in falsetto. Van Hunt prides himself on being a Minimalist artist and “Falls (Violet)” proves the point. By the way, there’s quite a connection between this song and the title track, “What Were You Hoping For,” but more on that later.
Moving Targets: It’s interesting that Van sings about metaphorically shooting the object of his desire on a target and not being able to miss, yet if YOU the listener, are not paying close attention, there will be a lot of things that will be missed, including a backwards piano that actually begins this very song and then continues throughout. This amateur reviewer only just realised that now, yet iTunes says that it’s been played 21 times. Clearly that was not enough! What more can be said? It’s a great song. And of course his falsetto is flawless.
Eyes Like Pearls: The blistering first single lifted from the album is about a man driving his woman to a church so that they can get married. Hence, she is crying precious tears of joy… and her eyes are like pearls. “She turned to our guests and blinded them with her high beams.” And when Van sang that lyric, he was referring to her, um…. eyes…. those of us with one-track minds will think he was talking about, ahem… flashing the people in the church… but that would be wrong. All righty then, moving right along.
A Time Machine Is My New Girlfriend: Another hard rocking one, which is full of… kinda cliched similes, such as: “Roaring like the ‘20s” and “Now I’m fresh as a daisy.” It’s probably not that deep, he’s singing about wanting to go back in time for some reason or another. He compares a time machine to his girlfriend. At the end of the day it’s one of those take it or leave it type of songs…. it just depends on the mood.
What Were You Hoping For?: The opening samples of dialogue can definitely be quite off-putting at first, but if you look beyond that, you’ll realise the title track of this album has a lot of really great lyrics in it. In particular: “Maybe that’s the algorithm to bring me closer to you…. maybe that’s the mechanism.” It’s pretty cool how he sings the chorus, too. And hey, wouldn’t you just love to turn to some chick who’s clearly crushing on you and tell her things straight-up? Lucky for us, Van actually had the nerve to come right out and do exactly that: “I’m your type…. and you’re hating your life.” Damn right! Now…. if you pay VERY close attention to this song, you will realise that it has the VERY SAME beat as the song “Violet,” which appears earlier on the album. Interesting observation.
Cross Dresser: A couple of years after this album was released, Van Hunt posted the full photo that he’d used as the cover… and there was an older man dressed up as a woman standing off to the side of the frame. So, this song could’ve been inspired by that image for all we know. In short, it’s another hard-rocking “punk” song about a man who’s been dumped by his girlfriend, so he decides to keep her in mind by wearing one of her scarves, before deciding to completely start dressing in the clothes that she left behind, which he compares to children dressing up as ghosts on Halloween.
It’s A Mysterious Hustle: Van Hunt concludes his fourth album with a very personal dedication to his son. It’s quite obvious from the opening lyrics, which talk about raising a child, but then of course he gets quirky with other lyrics like: “It’s a mysterious hustle, you were born in the middle of a puzzle…. Fire-breathing dragons…. sociopathic bubblebath.” Which, in some ways is quite typical of him. The end of this song features some really slowed-down vocals, which also appear at the 2:26 mark. However, after running it through Audacity, it’s safe to say those vocals were most likely lifted from the end of one of Van’s concerts… and he’s saying, “You guys look great!” In that case, it’s a clever way to end the album…. but of course you wouldn’t necessarily realise that because it’s not so obvious.
Verdict: Van clearly stated that he wanted this album to be disruptive when he issued a press release prior to its availability, so with that in mind you would expect the album to sound the way it does. It’s definitely a much more experimental sounding album and it’s a hell of a lot rawer than the earlier material, which is also to be expected now that he’s an indie artist doing things on his own terms. And it may even take a few listens before you warm up to this album, but it’s definitely well worth it.