Ever since Richard Hawley emerged from the shackles of Longpigs and Pulp in 2001, he’s seemed like a man deliciously out of time. In an age of juddering electro, stadium indie and nu-rave, Hawley shines like a beacon, fusing the spirit of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison through a very Northern English, shamelessly romantic sensibility. There really is nobody else quite like him.
Those who have followed Hawley’s solo career from that first self-titled debut mini-album will know how Lady’s Bridge sounds before even listening to it. It’s basically a continuation of the Mercury-nominated Coles Corner – lush orchestration, melancholic, wistful ballads – but with an added edge. There’s some faster, almost rockabilly, tunes here this time, but there’s also a sense of anger, and most overwhelmingly, a deep sense of sadness. It all makes sense when you learn that Hawley’s father was dying of cancer when the album was recorded.
For if Coles Corner was the sound of a sentimental man bursting with love for his partner and his city, Lady’s Bridge sees the same man sounding wounded and fearful. Valentine sets the tone – as soon as the huge string section bursts out of the speakers you know you’re on familiar Hawley territory, but the lyrics are a far cry from the likes of The Ocean – they tell the tale of a man fearful of his relationship’s demise, one who is “scared that you don’t need me anymore”. Hawley’s deep rich baritone gives the song an added dose of poignancy.
In a similar vein is the beautifully sad Lady Solitude, a fragile, sparse ballad about nursing a broken heart which could come off as cliched (“I see a rainbow, I don’t know where it goes, going to follow my dreams”) if it wasn’t for the sincerity with which Hawley sings. Roll River Roll is another classic Hawley ballad, the bluesy piano even bringing to mind prime-era Van Morrison in its laidback beauty.
Long-term Hawley watchers may notice some subtle differences on this album though – Serious and I’m Looking For Someone To Find Me both bring to mind his rockabilly work with the Feral Cats with the latter in particular being one of Hawley’s most upbeat numbers to date. While the overall formula is one of ‘if it ain’t broke’, its this pleasing variety to the songs that make this Hawley’s strongest album to date.
There’s some divergence in the lyrics too – the glorious sweep of Tonight The Streets Are Ours tackles the ASBO culture, but instead of the easy target of ‘hoodies’ and the like, Hawley prefers to attack the inadequate measures put in place by the Government. “These people, they’ve got nothing in their souls” he laments, before, in a typically Hawley gesture, identifying love as the answer – “there’s so much there to heal dear, and make tears things of the past”. It’s a wonderful, spine-tingling song.
He’s been regarded as somewhat of a national treasure in his home city for some time, but it’s only since the success of Coles Corner that his reputation has flourished amongst the wider world. Lady’s Bridge is a wonderful album that will only confirm and enhance that burgeoning reputation.