You find great comfort in the music of Richard Hawley. The lush arrangements; the sad and unapologetically soul-baring words; and the blanket of warmth that is the Sheffield crooner’s enriched velvet vocal tones – tones, which seem to soothe the soul. Hawley’s perennial subjects may be of the bleakness of love and loss, but you can’t help but be drawn in by of the promises of rich romance.
So remains the case on his sixth album where little has changed but hope. Like his previous three outings Sheffield again provides an album title and a rich vein of kitchen-sink romance. Hawley’s lyrical mine has been to draw beauty from the mundane and it only takes over a minute – and an extended electronic drone – until we’re taken to a place where ‘the dawn breaks over roof slates/ hope hung on every washing line.’ Business as usual then, only it’s not. As the record progresses it becomes apparent that indeed, hope has been hung out to dry.
Those drawn to Hawley through 2005’s Coles Corner and 2007’s Lady’s Bridge – by far his most successful record to date – will of course be au fait with the Hawley of Truelove’s Gutter, yet they’ll mourn the optimistic, upbeat interludes that stemmed the flow of the forlorn on those records. There are no such breathers here. Consistently downbeat, mournful and haunting, early fans of the troubadour will find this a bleaker companion piece to 2001’s, Late Night Final. Laced with sad, often meandering, songs on writing love-letters by the fire, becoming a better husband and coming down off cocaine addiction, Truelove’s Gutter may also be Hawley’s finest record. It’s certainly one of his most remarkable.
Were Hawley hoping to build solely on his burgeoning success, then he certainly would have consigned this album to the vaults’¦or at least added a few -radio’ pleasers. Even the relatively buoyant -Open Up Your Door’ bares a haunting undercurrent. The average song clocks in at over five minutes, with two of the eight tracks clocking in around the ten-minute mark. Radio won’t even think to come around and have a sniff.
Yet dispensing of any quest for success has freed the 42-year-old creatively, ensuring that he’s made a more rounded and robust record than his previous offering. It’s given him freedom to roam. The ten-minute -Remorse Code’ marks the records centrepiece and is a beautiful soothing song that somehow never manages to overstay its welcome despite its length. Only when you listen to the lyrics do you realise that it’s about cocaine. ‘Oh those white lines made your eyes wide,’ Hawley laments, ‘I was likewise in those white lines’.
The freedom bleeds into the arrangements – that is the freedom to pull back. Although Hawley takes the opportunity to use some obscure instruments (such as megabass waterphone) there are no sonic deceptions here. Instead we often get odd instrumentation leading sparse arrangements, none with greater affect than the musical saw, which solely accompanies Hawley’s vocal on -Don’t Get Hung Up On Your Soul’. This completes an opening run-of songs as great as Hawley has ever achieved. The prevailing mood is briefly (and unwisely) broken by a bombastic interlude mid-way through -Soldier On’, while any brief rest bite to be found in the wry lyrics of -For Your Lover Give Some Time’ is nailed by the sorrowful cello underpinning the song.
If there are complaints then they lie in Hawley’s lyrics. Part of the reason -Remorse Code’ works so well is that it touches on something modern – cocaine addiction – and pens it within a tune closer to the start of the last century than it is this one. Too often though Hawley seems to be working off a lyrical formula. Over his previous five records he’s been heavy on World War-era imagery and he continues to drill from that well here, amid lyrics of ‘watching you mend tears in your dress’ or ‘all the cinemas we ran in from the rain’. That he has become a master of cultivating that world through song is beyond question, but six albums in there’s a feeling that he’s beginning to fall on clichÃ© as he continually draws the same picture.
Running at nearly an hour in length, Hawley’s latest contains songs that are not as immediately memorable as before and is – as mentioned – a gloomier affair than some might expect. Yet persevere and, all in all, Truelove’s Gutter polishes up well and repeated listens will only serve to see it unfurl into something of a sumptuous treasure. Do that, and once again you’ll find, Hawley has created another sort of comfort in sound.