Release Date: Sep 22, 2009
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Singer-Songwriter
"Open Up Your Door" would be just a pop song were it not for lyrical concerns underscored by the only chamber arrangement: it's a plea for reconciliation by a husband who confesses and owns his shortcomings, while professing an all-consuming love for his spouse as strings swell and punctuate the bridge. The melody is infectious, and Hawley's soaring baritone evokes the power of Roy Orbison's tenor. It is followed by the country-ish "Ashes on the Fire," whose melody is as revealing as its lyric; it's a devastating tale of someone who wrote -- and delivered -- a letter confessing an passionate love, only to discover its burnt remains in the dustbin.
With "forces' sweetheart" Vera Lynn at the top of the album chart, the time couldn't be more ripe for Richard Hawley to seduce a mainstream audience. His sixth album, like its predecessors, comes drenched in nostalgia: the cover portrait is styled after Roy Orbison; Open Up Your Door ends with a melody quoted from Strangers in the Night; there's even a song about hand-writing a love letter by firelight - who does that any more? Opening track As the Dawn Breaks might have been sung by Lynn herself, its mentions of "hope hung on every washing line" and "a songbird's melody" are so evocative of that era. Elsewhere, ghostly cries from the musical saw and ondes Martenot bring an element of eeriness and adventure - yet it's hard to escape a niggling feeling that Hawley is here polishing a formula, even falling back on cliche, in his continuing quest to make the local and homely sound lushly romantic.
In case it wasn’t clear that Richard Hawley’s sixth studio album has at its deep dark heart the perennial themes of space, time, and loss, the quietly insistent ticking of a clock at the outset of closing track “Don’t You Cry” should make the point. A sound picked up accidentally during the recording of the song, Hawley decided to leave this ominous reminder of passing time on the final mix. And while he may sing “The clocks have stopped their ticking / Time grips you in its vice”, this is only another reminder that time ends too, disappearing like true love down the gutter that gives this album its name (it turns out that Truelove was actually a seventeenth century Sheffield innkeeper whose access to a river where waste could be disposed of made him a useful figure to the local citizenry: Hawley liked the poetry of the two terms and saw their relevance to the themes of his new songs).
Truelove’s Gutter is another timeless installment in Richard Hawley’s gorgeous paean to American country and western, strange instruments, and obscure parts of his home city of Sheffield, England. His sixth full-length is rich and lush, teeming with layers of shimmering guitars, offbeat instruments like the crystal baschet and waterphone, and, of course, his velvet croon. It never ceases to amaze me that music that sounds so distinctly indebted to Hank Williams or Johnny Cash comes out of a rather bland city in the middle of England.
Everyone is prone to those days when they wake up and things just seem wrong with the world. We feel sad and can’t really understand why. And when those days strike, it sometimes seems the best way to get through them is to maximise the feeling. On these days, we bundle under the duvet, eat comfort food, watch the saddest films we can find, and listen to the records that reflect our mood.
Middle age can be an unforgiving state, and an equally difficult subject to tackle (and deal with) in pop music. Take the opposing tracks being followed by two former members of Pulp, Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. Cocker has turned into a urbane elder statesman, old enough to appreciate how great things were when he was 22 yet not close to forgoing new conquests.
As we approach the end of the decade, expect an avalanche of lists, including those for its bestselling albums. Dido and Robbie Williams will dominate, in the UK at least, suggesting a divided nation oscillating between sedation and light entertainment. Tucked in behind should be an interloper with an acoustic guitar, David Gray, who began his career back when it was all Britpop and no one cared for earnest singer-songwriters.
You can attempt to make different kinds of music. Try and write stuff that’s cluttered, busy and overabundant; try and make something quiet and solemn with a tendency to drag; even try to make something loud but inviting with rich hooks – but whatever you do, don’t ever fool yourself into thinking anyone can do it. Richard Hawley has, quietly, delivered one of the most solid solo careers of the past decade.