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Richard Hawley - Darkness on the edge of Sheffield
on 7 May 2012
This is all a bit unexpected. Richard Hawley classic balladeer, aching lyricist and glorious singer songwriter becomes a space rock cadet? That at least is the interpretation of a number of music magazine reviews of this album thus far and it is partly why this reviewer for the first time approached a Hawley album with a distinct degree of trepidation. On the surface it all sounds faintly sacrilegious. Hawley is a man of humungous talent but inevitably when his name enters your head its the lush romanticism of a "Coles Corner", "Tonight the streets are ours" or "For your lover give some time" which spring to the forefront. In this setting his latest opus "Standing at the sky's edge" is a real departure but the good news is that it is a roaring success particularly if you are prepared to move on from his accumulated past glories and celebrate a much nosier and sonic orientated domain.
The declaration of intent comes on the monster seven minute opener "She brings the light" which starts sounding vaguely Eastern in a "Kashmir" kind of way until huge hammer chords pile in and Hawley's echoing vocals roll out over what sounds like a mix of sitars. It is like Stone Roses power chords at Spinal Tap volume eleven meets Cornershop and it works brilliantly largely because of underlying pop sensibility of Hawley's songwriting. Register in addition the blistering guitar solo at around four minutes might bring down the porcelain ducks off the wall. If you want to hear it you can download the track free from Amazon, bless them. The pace settles into a moody gallop on the deeply textured title track on which Hawley's atmospheric vocals are at their brilliant best. It has a nice psychedelic feel and really does power up over its near seven minute duration. "Time will bring you winter" is all looped vocals and has a huge guitar backdrop that those Texan post rockers "Explosions in the sky" would be proud of. Barely is this concluded before "Down in the woods" piles in with enough force to feed the national grid and distinctly echoes Hawley's Manchester contemporaries The Doves with its robust execution. These first four songs are as far removed from anything on the dark beauty of 2009s "Truelove's Gutter" as is possible to achieve. They demonstrate however that Hawley is super intelligent rock composer who can bring to the genre a sense of melody and structure whilst ripping bare the frames of your speakers and threatening them with destruction.
Things cool considerably in the second part of this album. With the fifth track "Seek it", he returns to a template that his supporters will fully recognise. It is a gorgeous rolling love song where he sings of being "blinded by love" and can be safely played in front of your partner. Equally the standout "Don't stare at the sun" shows Hawley can turn on the melodic tap at any point a produce a lovely song packed to the rafters with dreamy introspection and an emotive fade out where his guitar playing hits the heights. The mood darkens for the swirling "The wood colliers grave" which sounds like an old fashioned murder ballad before he returns with the big rock anthem "Leave your body behind" with its angry almost Paul Weller sounding power chords. The whole kit and kaboodle is rounded off with a love ballad "Before" that sounds like a mix of Duane Eddy meets Lift to Experience. This song is partitioned with a guitar solo so furious it needs anger management. Yet despite all the feedback and noise Hawley is always in control and it is an impressive conclusion to an album which will inevitably generate some debate and possibly split the jury.
If you like Hawley in the guise of tender songsmith the bulk of this album may get on your proverbial wick. "Standing at the sky's edge" is a noisy old beast and is clearly framed as a departure from his previous work. You sense that Hawley might be getting from it that kind of pleasure the old contrarian Neil Young gets from his various high energy electric dispatches, not least a devil may care attitude to a traditional fan base. Nevertheless there is easily enough here to satisfy old and new fans and Hawley is to be commended on taking a risk that he succeeds into turning into a new and vibrant opportunity for his musical direction. What do you think?