“Someone call the police! Richard Hawley’s been robbed!” Alex Turner’s words on hearing that Arctic Monkeys have pipped Richard Hawley to the Mercury Prize are now infamous. Two albums on, it seems that no-one has been successful in robbing Hawley of anything else, especially his songwriting talent and a voice so rich and steeped in experience that it can reduce grown men to tears.
A new Richard Hawley album – Truelove’s Gutter is his sixth – is something special and a welcome antidote to everything else in life. As the year begins to wind down, it’s hard to contemplate a more timely album than Truelove’s Gutter to provide the soundtrack for the long evenings.
Just looking at the sleeve it’s possible to deduce that within lies a much darker, more minimal sound relative to its predecessors. Gone is the rich technicolour of Coles Corner or the glitzy Sheffield Elvis of Lady’s Bridge, for this sleeve is simple and stark – mostly black, with Hawley’s face appearing out of the darkness. This minimal approach is matched by the sound of the album which rarely breaks its spell of intoxicating intimacy.
A different approach is adopted here from previous records. This is not a singles album, but rather designed to be something to be savoured without distractions. Hawley has said himself that this is not intended to be something you can put on pause because Coronation Street is on TV. It demands attention and, while it’s certainly not a concept album, a lot of attention has been paid to the atmosphere of these eight tracks. It rewards the listener who’s quite happy to just sit down and listen for a change.
The orchestrations of before have been paired down to a minimal amount of instruments, but those used are obscure and haunting. The beautiful opener As The Dawn Breaks employs such strange instruments as the glass harmonica in order to fully realise the images in Hawley’s mind. The rest of the tracks are no less gorgeous and epic in scope.
Those who may feel short changed by only eight tracks can rest assured that Truelove’s Gutter is a full length album thanks to a reluctance to rush things and pander to the iTunes generation. Remorse Code, one of the album’s many highlights, weighs in at almost 10 minutes. But there is none of the pomposity that might be expected of such lengthy pieces in the hands of another artist, for every single track is allowed to breathe, yet none outstay their welcome.
Lyrically it’s as smart as we’ve come to expect of Hawley, but full praise should go to For Your Lover Give Some Time for being a universal love song that tells it like it really is via those simple domestic details we can all relate to. It’s a real lump in the throat moment.
Truelove’s Gutter is yet another showcase for Hawley’s subtle genius. Every sound on the album, from the notes to the vocals, is warming and rich with sensations. Six studio albums into his late-starting solo career and Hawley’s light shows no signs of dwindling. As Oscar Wilde might have put it, “Richard Hawley may be in the gutter, but he’s looking at the stars”. Let’s hope no-one tries to rob him again.