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Richard Hawley Standing at the Sky's Edge

Over five studio albums, Richard Hawley has cemented his status as a local musical hero, very successfully carving out a niche that, whilst not hugely original, has set him well apart from the vast majority of acts from this city that have achieved national recognition. I associate his style deeply with that of Roy Orbison and other stars of the late 50s and 60s - deeply melodic and lushly orchestrated. It's easy to forget that his career began as a guitarist, not a singer - as a member of Longpigs, a touring member of Pulp, and (apparently) a guitar soloist on All Saints' unedifying cover of 'Under the Bridge'. It's to the guitar that Hawley has returned on Standing at the Sky's Edge, his follow up to 2009's Truelove's Gutter. For his first major label release, it's astounding how far he has travelled from the characteristic sound that made his name.

Expressing a desire to simplify things, this record is, in his own words, 'a live album with two guitars, bass, drums and rocket noises'. There is a range of rock influences present that will surprise many of his fans, and not a single violin can be found. It is filled with grinding distortion pedals and heavily imbued with reverb and delays. There are broad washes of sound, with hints of psychedelia, occasional bursts of Indian ragas, and a raw energetic undercurrent. The most obvious comparison is with The Verve's early work - their debut A Storm in Heaven could be a companion record.

As a long-term fan of Spiritualized and many post rock bands who share a similar musical realm, I was initially excited to hear this change in direction, but overall the album has left me unmoved. There are two critical weaknesses: one is self-indulgence, the other a failing of selfawareness. The indulgence comes in the form of solos - lengthy, ever present, and all doing very little to elevate or develop the music. The latter comes in the seeming rejection of his core strength as a writer of melodies. Unlike his previous albums, which are full of hummable tunes, the majority of songs here move around a tiny range of notes. I greatly admire Hawley's courage in such a wholesale change of direction, but in the end this is not an interesting album. Stand-out track 'Don't Stare at the Sun' is a surprising and beautifully tender moment. It is accompanied simply, without any of the pomp of his previous work, but is unmistakeably Hawley. And the tune is stuck in my head.

As an epilogue, Sky's Edge joins Lady's Bridge, Coles Corner, Lowedges and Truelove's Gutter in the Hawley Map Of Sheffield. It's the hill above Park Hill. Once the site of a now demolished estate, before that Sky's Edge was the home of a gambling ring and the site of scuffles between Sheffield's police and gangsters. Fascinating!

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