The often-sardonic lyrics lurking beneath Koufax's pleasant, piano-infused pop melodies on Hard Times Are In Fashion bring to mind another smartass piano-playing songwriter: Ben Folds. Koufax singer Robert Suchan bears no vocal resemblance to Folds, but the biting commentary on tracks like "Why Bother At All," "Back And Forth," "Blind Faith," and "Colour Us Canadian" makes the comparison stick. Beyond that, though, the similarities stop. For Koufax, piano almost always serves as accompaniment to the guitar, bass, and drums, not as a dominant element. Since its debut six years ago, the band has had some lineup changes, but the primary songwriting team has always been Suchan (who also plays guitar) and keyboardist Jared Rosenburg. The two make a fine pair, as Koufax's songs flow with a smart pop sensibility but never really sound contrived. Rosenburg's playing sounds both complex and complementary; his parts dramatically increase the strength of the songs, but never overreach.
Another of Koufax's main assets is Suchan's Morrissey-like croon. His vocal phrasing can sound a bit repetitive by the end of the album, but his voice works so well with the music that the criticism is minor. His insightful lyrics also boost the vocals, particularly on "Back And Forth" and "Colour Us Canadian," which detail the experiences of American bands touring overseas and becoming de facto ambassadors of an unpopular government. On "Back And Forth," Suchan expresses a weariness of the "German kids' politics" that Koufax hears "more and more each time" it tours. On "Colour Us Canadian," he sings, "We're all stopped at the border / No one's getting through / This passport once was golden / Guess that's no longer true." Suchan never settles for brainless Bush-bashing; instead, he focuses on how the government's actions have affected his band, and by extension, all Americans. The sentiment also cuts both ways, as Suchan seemingly criticizes the myopia of foreigners who take out their frustration with the U.S. government on a group of guys who play music for a living.
But all of these debates rage beneath Koufax's energetic pop, which still bounces even during melancholy moments like "Blind Faith." In the end, Hard Times Are In Fashion satisfies people who absorb the lyric sheet as well as those who don't think about the words when they sing along.