Review: Graham Coxon – A&E
Published on April 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Graham Coxon’s solo output appears destined to be either patronised or dismissed out of hand by much of the casually Blur-appreciating universe – “he’s just the guitar player, innee, and he doesn’t sing like Damon” they might tender (pun intended) – and this continues to be a shame because A&E, his eighth studio album in fourteen years, is really quite stonkingly good.
Opener “Advice” comes flying in with scratchy “Chinese Bombs” guitar, making for an exuberant if rough-around-the-edges return to garage rock after the folky detour of 2009’s The Spinning Top, paving the way for “City Hall” to come chugging along on a (lazy reference alert) Can-like combination of Motorik beat, monotone bass and repetitive lyrics ghosting over the top of it all; it’s pretty darn groovy, and Coxon’s lingering inability to resist atonal, psych-glam chord changes (which by the way is cause for celebration) imbues it with moments of colour which spring welcomely forth from this sparse and jagged musical landscape.
Single “What’ll It Take” lets cartoony synths and a goofy Gary Numan sensibility loose amongst the joust for lead refrain status taking place between “what’ll it take to make you people dance?” and “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t really know what’s wrong with me”, riding a killer power chord progression into a swirling, dizzying climax; “Meet and Drink and Pollinate” (Coxon referencing his own Camden lifestyle, or that which he observes?) allows a child-like guitar riff to play atop its minimalist arrangements before the whole thing begins to thump peculiarly underneath some sexy harmonised sax lines; and “The Truth” trudges hypnotically through a heavy metal guitar swamp, its syncopated bassline working an absolute treat.
“Seven Naked Valleys” is another that rides its groove to great effect, lashing psych-pop loveliness/freakiness alternately over the top of it, while “Running For Your Life” startles by dint of a frantically hammer-on-y melody performed in unison by vocal, guitar and bass, the chorus refrain of “We don’t like your accent or your Northampton shoes / Get back down the M1 ’cause we don’t like you” applying humorous make-up to a tale of social harassment. Its juxtaposition of relentless major chords and ingenious wonkiness recalls both Pixies and Pavement; suffice it to say, it’s marvellous.
Carrying on, “Bah Singer” is another delightfully berserk and ever-so-slightly sinister stonker, while “Knife in the Cast” is proof again of Coxon’s unerring ability to coax the unexpected out of those major chords; it’s brooding, down-tempo, but with a click-thump! beat that swaggers steadily along underneath the ethereal vocal and usual, bloody brilliant guitar work. As with pretty much every other song here, “Knife in the Cast” is an exercise in repetition at its core but blessed with more than enough in the way of dynamics, textures and general oddness to qualify it as quite the sensory journey. Think a less despondent “1992” from Blur’s 13 album.
Closer “Ooh, Yeh Yeh” is much more reconcilably Coxon for the casual fan, although the blasé close harmony singing feels full and rich in the mix before going on to do something quite melodically spectacular with its titular refrain. This is fabulously inventive songwriting within such a simple template – namely two distinctly separate, alternating ‘bits’, the more unexpected of which being the chorus – and, in the right hands at least, sometimes that’s all a song really needs.
A&E may be unlikely to trouble those end-of-year top tens, but it bloody well deserves to in Rocksucker’s book. Another fine body of work courtesy of one of the most talented all-round musicians going.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Graham’s reaction to this review…
@rocksuckersplendid! I am very honoured!
— graham coxon (@grahamcoxon) April 10, 2012