Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge
Back in 2006, the Arctic Monkeys were the surprise recipients of the Mercury Music Prize for their pithy debut, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”. As Alex Turner stepped up to the podium, he said, “Someone call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed!” Back then, the deserving Richard Hawley, who also hails from the Steel City, was making orchestra-backed “unapologetically retro” music.
Reluctantly dubbed a modern Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash, Hawley has now taken a bold step in the opposite direction with his new album, “Standing On the Sky’s Edge”. It’s a menacing protest record in itself; for those with a less keen ear for Hawley’s hushed lyrics, in much of the PR chained to the record he’s saying useful, soundbite-able things like “Britain is no longer a civilised society.” But enough about the man himself.
Magnetic seven-minute opener “She Brings The Sun” is startlingly different to his previous work: raga affectations intertwine sitars with hazy guitars and the bass’ heavy plod, and in place of his ‘retro’ style is psychedelic rock, with a fiery guitar solo thrown in for good measure. It still sounds like Hawley, but on a different plane.
He declared in a recent interview with The Guardian, “This is my angry record,” anger fuelled by ongoing budget cuts in the public sector: “What defines a civilised society for me is that we look after the sick and the elderly, educate our kids, nourish and cherish the next generation and give them ideals that are worth sticking to.” And so kicking off this protest album is the story of three lives doomed to fail in an unforgiving state. Immediate and dominant, this song is the best thing on here. But that’s not to say the rest of the album is a write-off.
“Down in the Woods” is as animated and provocative a song as Hawley has ever made; “won’t you follow me down to the woods? Come back feeling good…” The record’s tranquil midpoint, “Seek It” is a languid return to his tuneful stylings, but with uncharacteristically candid lyrics worthy of ‘rival’ Alex Turner; “I had a dream and you were in it, we got naked, can’t remember what happened next – it was weird.” The psychedelic element is skilfully ratcheted up once more in the anguished elegy, “Leave Your Body Behind You” before the final track, “Before” allows Hawley to display fully his virtuosic guitar skill and affecting, deep baritone.
“Standing On the Sky’s Edge” presents a familiar voice in a new light: Hawley the unruffled crooner has become Hawley the rocking activist. His velvet vocals slip cosily into the psychedelic soundscape he has created. The result is a rich, expansive and vivid record; he has carried out his transformation with aplomb. The music world will be watching the Mercury Nominations of 2012 with interest.