Graham Coxon’s solo career has now stretched to one more album than he managed as a member of Blur. Like Blur’s, Coxon’s solo work has at times seemed wilfully perverse as he mines his own eclectic way through assorted facets of alternative pop. At times, his work can be ragged and lo-fi, as on his earliest solo albums, and it can also be gloriously hook filled and exuberant, as on his commercial peak Happiness In Magazines. In recent years, however, Coxon has left behind noisy pop in favour of more refined, pastoral sounds, as can be heard on his last album The Spinning Top. Coxon’s eighth solo album A+E sees him reacting against that and returning to his electric guitar to deliver his noisiest, dirtiest and most experimental album yet. Fortunately, it is also his most thrilling.
A+E is an album that eschews any refined sounds as Coxon explores his more experimental side and features, without doubt, his most interesting and inventive guitar work since Blur’s 13. Despite his advancing years – Coxon is now 43 – he appears to have little desire to calm down and on A+ E, he is as restless and agitated as ever. A+E appears to be an album about the perpetual outsider status that Coxon has always inhabited and its slightly strange experimental pop songs are the perfect backing for his wry, acerbic and frequently funny lyrics.
The album can broadly be described as art rock but it features just as much pop hooks as it does atonal guitar squalls. Advice is a beauty of an opener, a short, sharp thrash of punk rock about his misspent youth in the wild early days for Blur. Following this rambunctious start the album then moves in a decidedly more experimental direction.
He explores new sonic possibilities, as on the Krautrock influenced motorik pulse of City Hall and the post punk synthesisers of Meet+Drink+Pollinate, a caustic observation on the typical British weekend night out. Every instrument and sound on the album, save for a few synths, was played by Coxon and the album’s sonic inventiveness is a testament to his brilliance as a musician.
The general atmosphere is rather dark and claustrophobic. The stop-start stuttering lurch of Knife In The Cast is particularly interesting, the whole track cloaked in a sleepy fug. Truth’s snaking distorted guitar and synth that sounds like a machine malfunctioning is equally portentous. There are lighter moments, however, and Ooh, Yeah, Yeah’s woozy psychedelia is especially lovely.
Running For Your Life is a gloriously witty take on the sort of people who belittle anyone who dares to be a different. That encapsulates the spirit of the album: “We don’t like your haircut, or your attitude, go back down the M1 ‘cos we don’t like you.” It is a truly excellent piece of frenetic guitar rock with a real pop sensibility. The album’s best pop moment comes in the shape of the dance floor-filling single What’ll It Take? All manner of electronics and guitar effects collide as Coxon sarcastically asks, “What’ll it take to make you dance?”
In a year when Blur are making another one of their grand comebacks and his lauded band mate Damon Albarn is releasing two new albums, it is all the more remarkable that A+E will quite possibly be the best thing to come out of the Blur camp this year, for it is a hugely exciting album that forges new ground for its maker to stride forth over.