Ever since his Mercury Music Prize nominated Coles Corner, Richard Hawley has become known for beautifully crafted songs as warm and comfortable as old overcoat.
Yes you always know exactly what you’re gonna get from the Sheffield crooner….SCREEEAW!! BALAAM!! DANANGANANG!! er, hang on a minute…. have I put on a Godfathers record by mistake?
No, that’s definitely Hawley’s baritone surfing over the thundering barrage of feedback, distortion and overdriven guitars on Off My Mind – the first of several welcome surprises on new album Further.
Many moons ago, Hawley auditioned unsuccessfully for a role in Morrissey‘s backing band – Moz apparently taking issue with the guitarist singing along to his own playing.
I mention this because track two Alone, with its luxurious strings and chugging rockabilly riff, would not be out of place in the Manc curmudgeon’s canon.
Normal service resumes on My Little Treasures, which traverses much more familiar Hawley territory to a gentle bossa nova rhythm.
Charming and deeply personal, the ballad was inspired by a special encounter with two of his father’s friends, following Hawley Snr.’s passing in 2007.
An acoustic guitar strummer, albeit augmented by steel guitar and zither, Emilina Says reminded me vaguely of Simon and Garfunkel‘s Cecilia.
The title track, with its slide guitar solo, and the bittersweet Not Lonely and Midnight Train are all classic Hawley, the rich orchestration and his deep vocals as familiar and soothing as an arm around the shoulders.
The big guitars are back on Is There A Pill, Hawley flexing his muscles with some thumping power chords and a solo straight out of the Manic Street Preachers playbook.
Time Is starts like a Johnny Cash dark country pastiche, before heavy electric guitars kick in, Hawley warning menacingly: “Time is on your side, right now, but time can change”.
A mighty harmonica solo is thrown in for good measure, as Hawley sings of storm-bred sons and hurricane daughters, Stirring stuff.
Galley Girl is another curveball, garage rock guitars blended with a folk tale, apparently about a highwayman and his mistress setting sail for a penal colony in Australia.
Strange and rather brilliant, with a beautiful key change in the middle eight, it’s one of the strongest songs on the record.
Album closer Doors sees Hawley experimenting with psych-rock.
An intriguingly subversive little number, it quietly extols the virtues, or otherwise, of popping pills.
“You’ve opened up your mind’s front door/ What did you go and do that for?” he wonders.
Hats off to Hawley and co-producers Colin Elliot and Shez Sheridan for making an album that sounds sumptuous and expansive, and yet reassuringly intimate.
In his 20th year as a solo artist, the former Longpigs and Pulp guitarist deserves credit for at least pushing the envelope, if not exactly ripping it to shreds.
A great record which might well earn him some new admirers.
- Further is out now on CD, LP, Limited Edition Orange LP, Limited Edition Picture Disc, digital download and streaming services. More info on this link.
- For more about Richard Hawley including Autumn UK tour dates visit his website here.