Richard Hawley ploughs a fascinating and oddly isolated furrow in British rock music. He has a style and image that is out of tune with as many mainstream trends you can think of, but that hardly stops him producing some of the finest music in the kingdom. Sheffield son, Hawley, first came to prominence with the underrated British nineties band, Longpigs, before embarking on a solo career and playing with his mate Jarvis Cocker in Pulp. Trueloves Gutter is the artistes sixth release and a logical progression from his earlier work. It underlines Hawley as one of the most important artistes in the UK.
This feels like the album Richard Hawley always wanted to make. There are no nods to commerciality, which is a bold move after the success of its predecessor, the immense Ladys Bridge, which had its fair share of radio friendly singles. Despite the fifties throwback image, theres no rockabilly here. Instead youll find an array of ancient instruments from the glass harmonica to the lyre. Indeed on Dont Get Hung Up on Your Soul youll find the best use of a musical saw since since the strange and compelling Endlessly on Mercury Revs seminal album, Deserters Songs. These weird and wonderful instruments combine to give the new recording an ethereal feel which amplifies its overall dark and somber mood.
There are personal confessionals and songs of tender tribute to self-destructive friends here and the union of words and music is as seamless as you can find. Its almost easy listening that isnt easy listening. As The Dawn Breaks begins the record with a slow ambient soundscape which gives way to gentle acoustic and Hawleys soft, rich croon. He could almost be dreaming of a White Christmas but instead ushers in the new day in a simple ode to love, through the metaphor of a songbird.
The next song Open Up Your Door starts plaintively but builds towards the end with lush strings filling out the sound and bringing a sense of resolution to all the pleading. Love is so hard to find/And even harder to define but hes never been so sure. Later on this is the closest you get on the record to uptempo, but though the melody of the opening verse recalls that of “Serious” from Ladys Bridge, it has nothing like the good time feel of that song. Ashes on the Fire sees Hawley switch to country mode, as his magnificent voice evokes that of Johnny Cash when he hits the lower notes. This is a gorgeous lament, stripped down, poetic, and universal in its discursion of lost love.
There are just eight songs on the record and the next one is not much under 10 minutes long. Radio stations eat your hearts out because this is one is pure gold. The cunningly titled Remorse Code unfolds in a simple yet haunting melody developed by sympathetic acoustic guitar and percussion and punctuated by a burst of Hawleys elegiac electric guitar which returns to decorate a delicious instrumental segment and finale. The subject matter isnt easy — Oh those white lines made your eyes wide/on enlightened lives in those white lines, while Hawley laments I was likewise in those white lines yet somehow the music makes sense of the addiction and banishes it to another place.
Richard Hawleys special brew of solace and romanticism can edge towards the maudlin and Dont Get Hung Up in Your Soul is another song of brokenness and sorrow, telling of the pain of love and yet through that, its capacity for joy. Soldier On opens particularly sparsely, almost forcing you to ponder every syllable of the lyrics until a haunting steel guitar provides an interlude of sorts and then the song explodes Floyd-like into a crescendo of wailing guitar and crashing percussion. Oddly it really works too. For Your Lover Give Some Time provides a contrasting follow-up with quiet acoustic guitar and violin accompaniment. The lyrics take you back in time to a simplicity of living that the singer yearns to recover.
The albums epic closer, Dont You Cry, hits the stopwatch at 10 minutes, 40 seconds. Melodically theres a hint now and again of Midlakes Chasing After Deer from the marvellous album, The Trials of Van Occupanther and the songs, however different, share common sensibilities. Dont You Cry stops you in your tracks with its words of beauty and truth, while all manner of shimmering, chiming, and resonant sounds combine to transport you to a state of sorrowful bliss, if such a thing is possible.
Trueloves Gutter is utterly beautiful, sombre, spellbinding, and undoubtedly one of the very best albums of 2009.