Sheffield’s finest guitarist and hopeless romantic Richard Hawley celebrates his move to Mute with an album of gorgeous, lush songs that draw on a bygone era for inspiration. If the sound is very ’50s and ’60s – lots of Hawaiian guitar – the emotions are timeless, and Hawley proved himself a talented songwriter with his earlier albums, particularly the wonderful Late Night Final.
Title track Coles Corner is a perfect example of the way Hawley sets unmistakably English lyrics to music more normally associated with the freedom and innocence of a 1950s American road movie. Coles Corner was where everyone in Sheffield met, including – or particularly – those looking for romance.
Hawley’s narrator walks the city at night hoping to meet the right person, or perhaps any person, to relieve his loneliness. The minor key strings of the intro mean there isn’t going to be a happy ending, but that doesn’t stop the wonderful 6/8 rhythm and Hawley’s velvet voice from making us hope against hope that it will turn out differently this time…
The songs are all in the same vein, but some are slower and more reflective (Darlin’ Wait For Me, Tonight), others more upbeat (Just Like The Rain, I Sleep Alone). Hotel Room is a classic track – 3/4 time, dead simple piano chords keeping the rhythm, and the slide guitar kicking in with the biggest echo you can imagine. “10.30 in this hotel room / you and I locked in the gloom / lost out of love once again / but I’ve got you here with me, friend…” Nostalgia at it’s best as someone no longer in their first flush of youth accepts that life could be worse.
The Ocean – the first single – provides the lushest orchestration, the album version gradually adding layer after layer as it approaches a huge climax. Wading Through The Waters Of My Time is such a perfect country song it’s hard to believe it’s only just been written. And then there’s the quiet perfection of the lullaby Who’s Going To Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet – just voice and the simplest of guitar – leading to the instrumental Last Orders. This is so laid back it’s like the cool-down after a brisk workout. … And relax.
If I wanted to be uncharitable I could remark that many Hawley songs are interchangeable, but that’s inevitable when the elements used in every track are relatively constant. The lyrics are strong enough to make the distinction for those who listen, and that’s certainly enough for now, but apart from the title track itself – which really is a cracker – there isn’t anything in this album we didn’t hear in the first two. It’s still gorgeous, though.