Review: Graham Coxon – ‘A + E’

aandePerhaps it was the highly lauded reception that met with the Blur reunion that inspired Graham Coxon to regress to his musical origins.

Perhaps it was the influence of being around the band mates that collectively became a household name that reminded him why he picked up a guitar in the first instance.

Far more likely is that the raw intonations of basic, gritty punk was always the guitarist’s natural inclination. After all, whilst over the years Damon Albarn has been off exploring his most outlandish musical doctrines with Gorillaz and The Good The Bad And The Queen, and Alex James has downed tools and fucked off to live on a farm and make cheese for a living, Coxon has always been the one to maintain some sense of normality. The one that you feel you could happily join for a pint in the local watering hole.

The one least likely to be found lording it up in a very big house in the country.

Whatever it was that ultimately flicked the switch in his head, the by-product is an album unlike Coxon has ever produced before in his solo career. Taking a step back from his previous outing, 2009’s ‘The Spinning Top’, and casting the acoustic guitars to one side for the time being, ‘A+E’ is an amalgamation of ideas that is in essence the result of an irrefutably creative musician being cut loose in a studio with a bass guitar, a drum machine, and assorted other technological delights that facilitate a wonderfully abrasive racket.

Coxon lays down a marker and nails the album’s colours firmly to the mast right from the offset with the scratchy, distorted guitar intro to ‘Advice’, a riotous cavalcade of blustering instruments that sets the tone admirably for the rest of the journey. The clattering bass line of ‘City Hall’ could easily have been lifted directly from The Strokes‘First Impressions Of Earth’, albeit with lyrical prowess taking a backseat in favour of instrumental exploration.

‘Running For Your Life’ sounds like Coxon has decided that Madness never quite grew a sufficient set of balls and has set out to rectify this travesty, minus the saxophones mercifully, seamlessly fusing brassy cockney swagger with a soaring wall of distortion whilst professing a rustic love for “a pint of bitter and a bag of glue.”

The menacing rumble of one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘The Truth’, is intentionally or not, (although so infamous is its comparative twin one would naturally assume so) unmistakably reminiscent of the Jaws theme tune, but transcends hauntingly as the mournful vocals negotiate their way around the grinding guitar as it drives to a crescendo.

A full frontal assault of noise and distortion was presumably the order of the day when Graham Coxon entered the studio to record ‘A+E’, but that’s not to say there are no deviations from the general tone of the collection. ‘What’ll It Take’, for example, is a disembodied electro refrain that doesn’t quite sit comfortably within the confines of the rest of the album, likewise the ever so slightly self indulgent strains of ‘Knife In The Cast’.

And for the devoted Blur Fans? Fear not.

Arguably the jewel in the crown of Coxon’s eighth solo output is the Albarn-esque ‘Seven Naked Valleys’, a brash and swaggering integration of bass and trumpets that coupled with closing number ‘Ooh Yeh Yeh’ tips a wink to the days when Blur turned their backs on their Britpop darlings moniker with the bolder, more cerebral ‘13’ album in the late 90s.

With rumours of a new Blur album gradually dissipating, those congenital die-hards need not be too disheartened in the interim with the release of ‘A+E’ to tide them over until their heroes take to the stage once more at Hyde Park in August.

(Graham Miller)

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