Back in the day, when Darren Hayman fronted Hefner, he wrote a lyric in the song We Love The City that went thus: “This is sixth form poetry, not Keats or Yeats.” The lyrics of his second solo album since dissolving Hefner in 2002 fit this description too, but they’re all the more winsome for it.
Now something of a semi-cultish indie figure, Hayman’s been busy with various side projects since 2002, including a bluegrass supergroup and the short-lived project The French. He’s worked at the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Prior to this record he seems to have been on something like a self-exploration, finding out what emotions, instruments and rhythms make him tick.
Happily for fans of early Hefner, Hayman has come to the conclusion that ramshackle singalongs, which must always involve ukeleles, are where it’s at. Listening to Darren Hayman And The Secondary Modern, a warm, engrossing record of everyday, everyman emotions and workaday observations homespun into something only its author could have penned, it’s difficult to disagree.
The Wrong Thing, Let’s Go Stealing, She’s Not For Me and Straight Faced Tracy are typical examples of Hayman’s hook-laden yet unchallenging songwriting, with chugging rhythms to shimmy to alongside Hayman’s distinctive vocals and all set inside a production sound that emphasises that Hayman’s music will always be better for campfires than for arenas. As with the rest of the record, these tracks feature more instruments than can be counted, from piano and uke through a range of guitars and even a brass section.
Slower numbers include The Pupil Most Likely, a waltz telling a tragi-comic tale of a girl who was expected to go on to enjoy the best life has to offer but who failed. Elizabeth Duke begins with an unexpected reminder of Hayman’s history of electronic experimentation as a wash of bloops comes and goes, but it’s a rare flirtation on an album that is primarily a paean to acoustic instruments. Closer Nothing In The Letter starts as a quiet finale before exploding into an addictive singalong.
At times he heads into Velvet Underground territory, never more so than on Apologise. Londoners are forever being sniggered at for saying sorry, but here Hayman suggests it’s a good thing for us all to get contrite. In so doing we’d smooth the bumps in our path: “Even though you know you’re right, why not say you’re wrong, it might help you sleep tonight.” Maybe if Hayman ran the country we’d collectively bask in better mannered society.
Guest stars abound, too. John Howard, who also pops up on Anthony Reynolds‘ album British Ballads next month, heads a list that also includes avant brass man Terry Edwards, Ellis Island Sound and members of Let’s Wrestle, The Wave Pictures and Fanfarlo. Quite what they all did is not immediately clear, but the effect overall is of an album put together for the fun of making music.
Darren Hayman isn’t about changing the world with this or any of his other records, but he is honest lyrically and musically. If that means he never quite pushes his lyrics into the league of that other everyday observationist Jarvis Cocker, and his music never quite reinvents the wheel like the Velvets’ work did, that’s okay. Sometimes, life’s bigger than all that.