July 30, 2008
Record Review: Coles Corner
2005 | Mute Records
It’s Monday, I’m off from work and the sky is overcast, threatening rain. A light drizzle trickles over 4th Avenue but not enough to open the umbrella I’m carrying. What better reason is there to throw a jacket over my head, rush indoors and pop in Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner?
A guitarist for The Longpigs in the 90’s and later, Pulp, Hawley has been releasing gems such as Coles Corner (supposedly named after a street corner from his native Sheffield) since his self-titled debut in 2001. Much like Elvis Costello did with Burt Bacharach with Painted from Memory, Hawley records his albums as if he and his music were from another era, carrying himself like a crooner from the 60’s without letting you forget that he is from our time.
The orchestration which opens Coles Corner sets the overall tone of the album; that of lost love. Hawley happily admits over shining guitars, “Here’s where the sound/of my tears hits the ground/just like the rain” on “Just Like the Rain”. Imagine every woman in the audience swooning when he pulls the microphone close, pleading “Darling, wait for me,” on “Wait for Me”. “The Ocean” is the most epic song on the album, erupting in the end into a chorus of strings, keys laced in tremolo and Hawley’s slightly hoarse baritone vocals hitting you like waves crashing against the shore. “Born under a Bad Sign” is hands down my favorite track on the album. Hawley weaves the tale of a Brando like character, the tough but sad underdog, strumming his guitar all alone. “(Wading Through) The Waters of My Time” could have easily been penned by Johnny Cash or strangely, Neil Young. Hawley strips the song down to its elements like an old 45 record release; acoustic guitar, vocals coated in reverb, slide guitar and light percussion. The album ends with the surprising Eno-esque “Last Orders” an ambient piece consisting solely of piano and swirling guitars that echoes like a song lost in a cave.
Besides Hawley’s talent to pen a great tune, it’s the production that makes Coles Corner as well as his other albums so successful. Where others might make Coles Corner sound merely nostalgic, Hawley lifts directly from his influences without seeming like a thief, putting a fresh spin on classic songwriting while making each song his very own.
by Justin Weingartner