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Monday, 24 December 2012

1. Richard Hawley : Standing At The Sky's Edge

We’ve been counting down to Christmas Eve with the albums of the year. Here’s our No 1.

Richard Hawley. Safe as houses. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you buy an album by the former Pulp guitarist.

A warm, reverb-drenched baritone vocal; subtle guitar licks wrapped in the lush strings of a 38-piece orchestra; the feeling of unabashed luxury; music that caresses and cocoons.

Think again.

Because the Sheffield songwriter is mightily miffed at the state of the country. In fact, he’s so angry that he’s made a bristling, spitting rock and roll album. Yes, really.

“I needed to get away from the whole orchestra thing,” he says. “I wanted to make a record with just two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and rocket noises.

“I felt I’d neglected my guitars for a long time. I just wanted to get them out and dust them down. Guitar is my first love and, hell, I just wanted to have some fun!

“I didn’t want to make a record that was treading water. It would have been easy to do that. There are a lot of artists who serially make the same record. It ends up cheapening the ones before, and that’s a shame.

“I didn’t want to put the pedal to the metal all the way though. It would be boring and I might be guilty of secretly wanting to be a 40 year-old guy in Spandex. Melody has to be king.

“There have always been guitar solos on my stuff before. They just weren’t quite this loud!” He’s not joking. Standing At The Sky’s Edge is angry both lyrically and musically, its songs peopled by victims of a society failed by politicians.

The title track sounds like Jim Morrison fronting Neil Young’s Crazy Horse with its overdriven grunge guitar, while Down In The Woods uses a harum scarum riff Led Zeppelin and The Who used to unleash.

She Brings The Sunlight has Eastern overtones and boasts not one, but two, incendiary guitar solos. We’d all forgotten just how good a player Hawley is, and now he reminds us.

Leave Your Body Behind You, chosen as the single, is wall of sound rock and roll riding a descending riff and ending in chaotic deconstruction.

There are mellow moments. Seek It is a lazy summer’s day of a song, and Don’t Stare At The Sun starts subtly then builds to a crescendo.

FinalĂ© Before works the same trick, a power chord wolf in silky sheep’s clothing. Whisper it quietly, but Richard Hawley has just made the best rock album of the year.

Who could have dreamed that?

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