Review: Richard Hawley – ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’

standingskysedgePsych-rock is the damndest thing.

Incubated in a 60s haze, rejuvenated in more recent years to some extent by the likes of The Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, it is a crude but often wonderfully preposterous musical Marmite that only the admirably brave or mercilessly foolish would attempt to cross over to were it not already their natural inclination.

So into which category does Richard Hawley fall?

The Sheffield songster and sometimes Pulp guitarist is, after all, renowned for his dulcet, baritone working class indie ballads; a bequiffed Roy Orbison style effigy that the Yorkshire everyman can relate to. Now there are just a couple of questions that perplexed Hawley fans will be asking.

First of all. Why, after six successful and critically acclaimed solo albums that rarely deviated beyond a tried and tested formula of guitar, strings and piano did the former Longpigs man feel the need to take such a dramatic left turn with his seventh output?

Secondly. Does he pull it off with the usual effortless cigarette toting ‘fuck it’ attitude that we have become so accustomed to?

In all honesty, there is no answer to the first question. We can of course speculate that maybe, as he reaches those troublesome mid-forties, pastiche and security has been thrown to the wind and the solace of a musical comfort zone is no longer a priority. It could be the darker corners of his enigmatic mind finally spilling over into the recording studio. Or simply that he just wanted to try something completely different.

To answer the second question, yes he does. Sort of.

Whilst ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ is without question a good album, it just doesn’t feel like a good Richard Hawley album. Such inordinate experimentation is always a perilous path to tread, and what Hawley may find with this bout of psychedelic eccentricity is that many of his fans have been alienated, at the very least disconcerted.

The ominous introduction to opening gambit ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ gives fair warning right from the outset that this album is set to be a journey into the unknown for anyone who was expecting a direct sequel to 2009’s brooding ‘Truelove’s Gutter’. Sitars are layered with drums are layered with amped up guitars in a truly cosmic clusterfuck of sound.

The title track itself transcends like all of Johnny Cash’s inner demons that were left behind being unleashed on record and dragging our autonomous hero through his own drug addled odyssey. No mean feat considering he has long since kicked what was, by his own admission, an insatiable love of narcotics some time ago.

Down In The Woods’ is about as ballsy a track as Hawley has ever laid down; guitar driven and distorted to the point of sitting awkwardly amongst its bedfellows. Indicating that spending so much time with long time accomplice Jarvis Cocker probably influenced his creativity more than he thought, ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ builds to a crescendo like an extract from Pulp’s ‘This Is Hardcore’ phase, an era which Hawley himself was not even privy to but has clearly taken notes on psychedelia from.

The only track that really stands out as an archetypal Richard Hawley standard is ‘Seek It’, a vintage and pastoral acoustic jingle that suggests that somewhere behind those thick spectacle frames the songwriter we know and love still resides. To a lesser extent ‘The Wood Collier’s Grave’ sounds more like you would always have expected Hawley’s music to sound if he had opted to take a more, um, outlandish approach to his career.

Hawley diehards rejoice, Mr Reliable has struck again with a mesmerising composition of nine dwindling, ruminating pieces of eccentricity.

Just approach with an open mind.

(Graham Miller)

Learn More

Leave a Reply