Success for Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon seems to be coming pretty easily since the latter’s decision to leave Blur four years ago. Albarn has achieved global acclaim with Gorillaz and, after releasing the stunning Happiness In Magazines two years ago, now Coxon is back with his sixth solo album.
Love Travels At Illegal Speeds is the guitarist’s most personal and accomplished release to date and should see him pick up more prizes like the Best Solo Artist award he bagged from NME in 2005.
Reunited with producer Stephen Street – the man behind the controls for Blur’s finest albums and before that with The Smiths and recently on Kaiser Chiefs‘ Employment – Coxon has come up with an album full of raw guitar licks, killer hooks and heartfelt lyrics.
When all the brash exterior is stripped away, Love Travels At Illegal Speeds is essentially a love album which sees Coxon bravely dig up old break-ups and tales of lost sweethearts. The results are remarkably touching.
On Tell It Like It Is, one of so many potential singles on the album, he laments “you came into my life and then you disappear”, while the beautiful song that closes the album, See A Better Day, finds Coxon sing “I’m so in love with you… I’m falling deeper every day”.
Meanwhile, this album’s Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery – the brilliant Don’t Believe Anything I Say – finds a remorseful Coxon singing “Why did I want to set you free? It seems my mind is more a prison now I’m free” about a tough break-up. These are lyrics which offer a stark insight into the singer’s head, all the while wrapped up in a superb melody which had this reviewer humming along by the end of the first listen.
Coxon approaches these difficult subject matters in different ways on the album. He adopts an angst-ridden thrash to let out his frustration on You Always Let Me Down, while he takes a jaunty pop approach on What’s He Got? The latter, with a fantastic hook that will implant itself in your head in no time, explains the feelings of many men overlooked by women as, with a very-English shrug of the shoulders, Coxon resignedly sings “guess he’s just better looking than me”.
Don’t Let Your Man Know is another song with a very-British feel. A story of a Carry On nature, Coxon’s knack for writing a melody is shown once more on this high-octane tune which finds him planning a secret liaison with an attached woman, asking “can I see you in the bedroom tonight?”.
Coxon draws on his love of bands like The Buzzcocks and The Jam throughout the album. Chopping guitar, boot-up-the-backside drums and a punky vocal kick off the album in fine style on single release Standing On My Own Again, while the spiky start is reinforced during I Can’t Look At Your Skin.
You And I is another high-tempo track with a killer chorus, while the get-up-and-go nature of the album’s sound is summed up perfectly on Gimme Some Love. Meanwhile, another of the punchy little numbers on offer – I Don’t Wanna Go Out – includes some echoey vocals very reminiscent of Hawkwind‘s Silver Machine.
After some of these other songs one instrument you never expect to hear is flute. However, there it is on the gorgeous acoustic tune, Flights To The Sea, emphasising Coxon’s multi-dimensional approach.
And it is another slow tempo track on the release that makes you think that maybe, just maybe, Blur, in their traditional set-up, are still alive after all. Just A State Of Mind could be a song just written for Albarn’s vocals. In the end though, Coxon has proved more than ever that he does not need his ex-bandmates to produce top-drawer music. And make no mistake about it – Love Travels At Illegal Speeds is very much top-drawer.