Monday, March 03, 2014

Richard Hawley - Standing At the Sky's Edge - 2012

It's funny, I don't seem to connect with any of Hawley's other work, but there is something about this album that is amazing. Richard Hawley was best known in the UK, apparently, as Pulp's touring guitarist, until a couple of years ago. He was also a member of the band the Longpigs, whom I've never heard of. But in 2001, he started releasing solo albums. I'll be honest, I'd heard bits and pieces of the first couple, but they'd never really spoken to me all that much. Hawley has a gorgeous baritone voice, but his style, sort of Roy Orbison meets Morrissey, just didn't connect with me. It was just a little too much brood and not enough

Fast forward to 2012, and the British music press is all aflutter about Hawley's new album. Normally I wouldn't care all that much, but the reviews all said the same thing - he'd rediscovered his rock side and folded it into what he'd been doing before. That appealed to me, as did the fact that a lot of the reviews said the new album had strong shades of psychedelia to it. People were even comparing it to Catherine Wheel, the sort of brooding shoegazing that I'm known to love. I figured I could give it a listen, so I tracked down the video for the first single, "Leave Your Body Behind You."

It was, as they say, certainly quite a change. Sure, the warm baritone voice was still there, but there was a snappy beat behind it, and the guitars did, indeed, have shades of Catherine Wheel. The song reminded me of the things I liked most about Kula Shaker, in all honesty, that sort of 1960s vibe without being beholden to it, while giving it a heavier touch. It also helped make Hawley's voice fold into the whole better, rather than being the blustering forefront it had been in so much of his earlier material. It had sweep and scope and a sort of breathless scale that made me want to hear more. I wasn't entirely convinced that the rest of the album would have this sort of big sky sound, but I was definitely interested. Could the retro-crooner really have gone full rocker?

The album, "Standing At the Sky's Edge," didn't come out here until about three months after it did in the UK, and by that point, the second single had dropped, and a lot more reviews had been written. The second single, "Don't Stare At The Sun," was more akin to Hawley's older work, but it still wasn't exactly in the brooding crooner vein he'd tapped so much before. Just listen to that guitar section that breaks into the song around the 3:20 mark, and just keeps spiraling, building, swirling, dancing. It's gorgeous, ensorcelling, entrancing.

Since its release, "Standing At the Sky's Edge" was nominated for a Mercury Prize (losing to Alt-J, whom just don't connect with me at all - they seem like a less effective version of the Beta Band) and it's gone on to be his best selling album. Let's hope his next one continues in this path.

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