Monday 16 October 2017

Hawley ditches his usual crooning and gets political

John Meagher

John Meagher

richard hawley

Standing at the Sky's Edge

(Parlophone)

HHHII

At first listen, Richard Hawley's new song, Down in the Woods, sounds like an ode to country bliss. But closer inspection reveals that the Sheffield singer is troubled by the future of his country's woodlands.

The Conservative government had attempted to sell off some of Britain's wooded areas, but thanks to the outrage of the general public, the legislation never went through. Yet, the very idea that the Tories would countenance such a move has inflamed Hawley and this -- his seventh album -- finds him in politicised mode.

It's not a political album in the way PJ Harvey's multi-garlanded Let England Shake is, for instance, but it does mark a dramatic departure for the former Pulp and Longpigs man.

Previously known for his gorgeously crooned vocals set to sumptuously orchestrated music, here he largely abandons this template in favour of a diverse set that sees him flit from folk to rock.

And his crooning -- such an awful word -- has largely been abandoned. The very first song, She Brings the Sunlight, starts off in a delicate melange of guitars and sitars before dissolving into a wall of distortion. It starts as it means to go on.

It's an intriguing development and a brave one too because after years toiling in the margins, people were finally beginning to notice Hawley.

Yet, it's not an entirely successful about-turn. For one, the magic of his voice has been lost somewhat -- here he could be any frontman in any UK band. And then there's the material itself -- for every winning song like the rocking Leave Your Body Behind You, there's another that struggles to get out of the starting blocks.

Furthermore, practically all of the songs outstay their welcome.

Several clock in past the six-minute mark, but most would have benefited from being pared back to under four minutes.

Still, it's always worth celebrating those who try something different. Perhaps Hawley's collaboration with fellow Sheffield lads, Arctic Monkeys, set him on this rocky road?

Key tracks Leave Your Body Behind You; She Brings the Sunlight

Day & Night

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