Album Reviews

Richard Hawley – In This City They Call You Love

(BMG) UK release date: 31 May 2024

His best album since Standing At The Sky’s Edge brings together that familiar mix of Sheffield steel, luxurious strings and sentimentality

Richard Hawley - In This City They Call You Love Richard Hawley has added a new string to his bow since the release of his last album, 2019’s Further. It was a new career development that nobody saw coming, but has introduced him to a whole new audience: the author of a West End musical. Standing At The Sky’s Edge, named after his 2012 album and with a soundtrack consisting entirely of his songs, started life at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 2019, before transferring to the National Theatre, and then embarking on a West End run. There are even whispers of a Broadway production and a TV show – a trajectory of slow but steady success that mirrors Hawley’s own career.

For it’s easy to forget that Hawley didn’t embark on his solo furrow until he was aged 34. Since then, he’s slowly obtained national treasure status, and with the success of the musical, it means that In This City They Call You Love feels rather like an event. Which it is, while also sounding reassuringly familiar and comforting. Long-term fans will be relieved that West End success doesn’t mean any detours into showtunes or jazz hands. Hawley’s 10th album is the usual mix of spine-tingling ballads and uproarious rockers. It seems a bit more wistful than his last couple of albums – Sky’s Edge in particular was fuelled by fury at the Government – with a return to the luxurious strings that saw Coles Corner become a timeless classic.

There’s still some fire burning though. Opening track Two For His Heels is a mighty introduction to the album, full of feedback squalls, clanging guitars and an irresistible strut that doesn’t let up. While it sounds impressive, it’s a bit of an outlier, as much of this album showcases Hawley the balladeer. And what magnificent ballads they are. Heavy Rain is classic Hawley, a gorgeous ode to a long-term lover, with even the percussion creating a rainy ‘tip-tap’ rhythm. The strings and slide guitar feel like they’re creating a little cocoon to crawl into. Later in the album, I’ll Never Get Over You casts a similar spell, with Hawley doing his best Roy Orbison impression, while Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow sounds like such a traditional country lament that you’d swear it was a cover version. As ever, Hawley is a master at taking retro elements and making them sound bang up to date.

Lyrically too, In This City They Call You Love – titled such because, in South Yorkshire, everyone from little old ladies to big hairy bus drivers do indeed address you as ‘love’ – is a treasure. Hawley writing about his hometown is obviously nothing new, but tracks like the hushed People (essentially the title track) is a heartfelt tribute to the forges, rivers, furnaces and, above all, people of Sheffield. It’s the sort of album where a squalling rocker like Deep Space (one of the most raucous tracks that Hawley’s ever done, featuring an absolutely blistering guitar solo) can sit neatly next to Deep Water, a hushed, quiet acoustic ballad with some sumptuous harmonies, and the running order still makes total sense.

In typically Hawley fashion, there’s a timeless quality to these songs that mean you keep coming back to them. From the opening crunch of Two For His Heels to the closing majestic sway of ‘Tis Night, it adds up to his best album since Standing At The Sky’s Edge. Those who have just discovered Hawley through the musical will be delighted, as will his legion of long-standing fans – this familiar mix of Sheffield steel and sentimentality still runs deep.

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