[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
LOVE TRAVELS AT ILLEGAL SPEEDS
THIS OLD ROAD
THE ESSENTIAL NANCY SINATRA
THERE'S NO JUSTICE. If there were, I wouldn't start a review of Graham Coxon's sixth solo album by referring to his former band, Blur, and to his ex colleague Damon Albarn's parallel career in Gorillaz. Coxon's work deserves to stand or fall on its own attributes. But each new record from either man reinforces a perception of his role in Blur - Albarn, the aloof conceptualist, a globetrotting musical sightseer taking snapshots of other lives; Coxon, the introspective purist, mining his own psyche with the most rudimentary tools at his disposal.
While Albarn has acquired and benefited from new foils, Coxon remains a resolute loner. Love Travels At Illegal Speeds is palpably the product of a single mind and a solitary mindset - a singer-songwriter's album neatly disguised as indie-disco fodder. Not since Blur's self-titled fifth album has Coxon delivered such a nifty, insistent set of riffs and slyly insinuating tunes. The first time you hear it, it sounds like nothing very much. The third or fourth time, it sounds as if you've owned it for years.
Sonically, Love Travels is a spirited solo ramble through Coxon's beloved pop-punkscape, all barbed guitars and hoarse, urgent, Estuary vocals. The test lies in the songs themselves, many of which are clever yet slight - serving as vehicles for those riffs and tunes, rather than compelling the riffs and tunes themselves to carry more substantial cargo.
Which is fine so far as it goes. Love Travels is never dull, and that's rare enough in today's rock scene. Still, Coxon plainly (and commendably) nurses ambitions beyond setting toes tapping and legs shaking. On Don't Believe Anything I Say, Tell It Like It Is and See A Better Day, he shows just how good he can be when he hits upon something not only stimulating but genuinely affecting.
The music business has many things to thank Johnny Cash for - not least the example he set for older artists looking to retain (or regain) their relevance: embrace your age; keep it simple; keep it dignified; get a good producer. Cash's former fellow Highwayman, Kris Kristofferson, is an unusual case, though. Even upon his debut in 1970, there was something about this grave, intelligent country star that made him sound ancient as the hills.
This Old Road see Kristofferson come full circle, via Hollywood, Streisand and supergroups, to the elemental, rugged and righteous music that made his name. It would be misleading to claim that, like Cash's American recordings, Road rivals its creator's classic early work throughout. Nonetheless, stripped down both in sound and imagery to a stark sobriety, yet tempered with unsentimental warmth, it has considerable power. The severe, weary fury of In The News, part defiance, part lament, and the unflinching take on addiction in Chase The Feeling, make them the equal of anything Kristofferson has done.
As the daughter of the 20th century's most revered singer, Nancy Sinatra may not have struggled to attain celebrity; her own distinct musical identity was another matter. The Essential Nancy Sinatra contains some of the most strange and subversive recordings of the Sixties. While the counterculture raged at the straight world, Nancy Sinatra infiltrated it with bright, seditious ditties - pop contraband brimful of smuggled filth and covert drugginess.
The role of her collaborator and frequent duettist Lee Hazlewood in this caper cannot be overstated; but it can be summed up by his now notorious instruction that she perform her breakthrough hit, These Boots Are Made For Walkin', “like a 14-year-old girl who f***s truck drivers.” The finest moments on this corking collection bear Hazlewood's grubby fingerprints like a seal of quality.
This is not to suggest Sinatra was Hazlewood's puppet. While technically limited, her singing was all about character. She could threaten, wheedle and titillate consummately, and projected blemished innocence with a unique, coquettish carnality. She got away with it, stylishly, and the evidence is here for your pleasure.
All material on this site is copyrighted © to David Bennun and may not be reprinted or reused without permission. Thanks.