[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]
COLES CORNER, THE fourth album from Richard Hawley (London Shepherds Bush Empire *****), was under-appreciated on its release last year - not least by this writer. I initially took Hawley for a capable pasticheur of 60s romantic balladeers both great (Scott Walker, Roy Orbison) and less so (Gene Pitney, Tom Jones). But repeated plays uncover an uncommon richness and depth. Hawley is an artist masquerading as a stylist, not vice-versa.
On the strength of this show, I'd go further: Hawley is the single most captivating thing I know of right now in British pop music. Many no-account acts have tried to bluff the suave shtick with little more than the suit and the strings. Hawley begins with the songs, which are not just well crafted (how often is that phrase applied to tepid or tedious work?), but genuinely dramatic and heartfelt. Coles Corner and The Ocean sweep from the stage irresistibly. Hotel Room, with its refrain of “you're here in my arms”, takes on a sombre new aspect when introduced as “a song about addiction”.
Born Under A Bad Sign appropriates a famous blues title and reassigns it to the weary self-reproach of a low-rent debauchee. Darlin' Wait For Me has an unabashedly showy and emotive quality that is almost pre-Raphaelite - nostalgia illuminated by longing and embellished with gilt. This is music which could so easily cloy. Instead, it radiates bravura and finesse.
Hawley may have been tempted to cultivate a persona to match this mystique; but his spiel between numbers is pure, hoary Yorkshire bathos, and filthy to boot - more Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club than Starlight Lounge. Which is probably just as well. The songs are so expressive and powerfully delivered that to punctuate them with an attempt at moody cool would be merely cheesy.
A quick mention of the week's most distinctive new album. The Warning (EMI ***) by Hot Chip is an eccentric mixture of pitter-patter synthesiser tracks and meshed, looping vocals. Hot Chip have created a sound of their own, which is unusual enough these days. When they employ it in the service of songs as good as the brisk, airy Colours, and the gorgeous standout Boy From School, the effect is most beguiling.
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