Release Date: Aug 28, 2012
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
From the members of Traffic abandoning Birmingham for Berkshire, to Fleet Foxes' longing for a simpler life where "green apples hang from the green apple tree", the lure of a pastoral utopia is one of rock's most pervasive myths. But it has to be said, it's had more likely adherents than Richard Hawley. With his quiff and drape coat, his omnipresent cigarette and his air of a man who's recently left the snug in his local and is in some hurry to return there, he just doesn't seem like the bucolic type.
The act of critics salivating over a seasoned artist’s new release by vowing it is unlike anything they have done before has become a boy who cried wolf scenario by now. In the realm of pop music in particular, this cliché looms large. Richard Hawley, he whose name is synonymous with dulcet, may not be the first person you would expect to shake his signature sound up.
The cover of Richard Hawley's Standing at the Sky's Edge reveals that something very different is afoot. Given the string-laden, heart-wrenching balladry of Truelove's Gutter, and the orchestrated, tender cibachrome glimpses of a simpler life in and around his native Sheffield on Ladysbridge and Cole's Corner, this is a kick in the head. Hawley has brought his guitar and a basic rock band setup back to the fore here, and his references come from the late '60s.
If you’ve read anything in advance about Richard Hawley’s new record, you might have heard it described as his ‘darker’ album, or his ‘guitar’ album. Given that his last one, 2009’s Truelove’s Gutter, was as brooding a set of songs as Hawley had ever been involved in, and that he’s rarely seen without a guitar in his hand, these might seem like some disingenuous suggestions. Just how dark and heavy could the gentle baritone of Sheffield’s finest get? One listen to the opening track on Standing At The Sky’s Edge will underline just how different this album is.
After the high-water mark of 2009’s Truelove’s Gutter, Richard Hawley has returned with something completely different in Standing at the Sky’s Edge. That’s hardly a surprise, as the Sheffield, UK, artist tends towards the admirably off-trend. The rockabilly romanticism of Lady’s Bridge gave way to Truelove’s tender heartache, and now with Sky’s Edge, Hawley seems to have landed spiritually in the late 60’s.
Few artists this year are likely to take the artistic leap that Richard Hawley does with his latest album. Hawley is beloved in his hometown of Sheffield, England for naming albums after actual city locales, and over the past few years his work has been meditative, with strings showing up on songs as often as his acoustic guitar. By comparison, some longtime fans may feel moved to lovingly tag this collection Diving Head First off the Sky's Edge.
If you google "Tim McCall", you will find Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley's first emotional tribute to his close friend and fellow musician, who died in 2010. This album is another. Hawley's grief – at this, and other deaths – finds him at Skye Edge outside Sheffield, pondering the void and raging against the dying of the light through the medium of distorted guitars.
Richard Hawley has described his seventh album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, as his "angry record." It's also his "political record," commenting (sometimes obliquely, other times more directly) on the budget austerity measures currently being taken by the British government and how they've affected the country's poor. But if you listen to Sky's Edge without paying attention to the lyrics, it's most obviously Hawley's "loud guitar" record, and therefore his "does anybody really want this kind of record from Richard Hawley?" record. The rigid formula that Hawley has refined with minor alterations for more than a decade--strings and reverb-drenched ballads sung in a low, laconic voice-- has been blown up and tripped out.
Such has been Richard Hawley's dedication to his hometown over the course of five studio albums that it's a wonder that he actually knows what lies beyond the Steel City's seven hills. Coles Corner, Truelove's Gutter and Lady's Bridge have all referenced Sheffield in their titles. In this respect, Standing At The Sky's Edge is no different. Yet what Hawley lacks in titular surprise he more than makes up for with the sonic dish that's served up here; this is an album that looks more to the cosmos for aural inspiration rather than the surroundings of the People's Republic of South Yorkshire.
After numerous collaborations and six albums of your own in the bag, there must come a point at which the prospect of attempting something markedly different from previous material really isn’t so pleasant. The careful balance of fulfilling musical desire, exciting yourself as a performer, remaining true to a style cultivated over a number of albums and an extensive career, all whilst moving forward creatively, has proved too tall an order for so many songwriters in the past. Hawley seems unfazed.
Sheffield crooner turns up the amps. Wyndham Wallace 2012 "...And this one’s for all the men in the house...” After a decade of seducing career couples with the Roy Orbison stylings of several critically acclaimed and, latterly, commercially successful albums, Sheffield’s most unlikely pop star is back, and this time he’s rocking out. It shouldn’t be a shock: Hawley started out in indie band the Longpigs, has worked with Pulp and Robbie Williams, and even contributed the guitar solo to All Saints’ version of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge.