Review: Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Published on May 15th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The former Longpigs and Pulp guitarist puts the lush orchestration aside for his seventh solo outing, taking a decent stab at wall-of-sound psych-pop in the process. Unfortunately, although it frequently reminds of fellow northerners and purveyors of dreamy escapism Doves and Elbow, it rarely comes close to matching either of those groups’ best moments, mostly falling well short.
Richard Hawley has a fantastic voice, no doubt about it, but the otherwise grandly rendered music behind him never really presents any kind of challenge, mostly flitting predictably between two adjacent chords in a way that places too much emphasis on the pleasing yet overly familiar atmospherics.
Opener “She Brings the Sunlight” layers some resplendent harmonies over Hawley’s compellingly grizzled vocal, placing ‘psych’ strings and chiming piano chords over a big, stoned stomp of a track – but does it really need two separate extended guitar solos? Probably not, and the fact that only one of the album’s tracks clocks in at under four minutes dictates that more often than not they outstay their welcome.
The title track sounds like a cross between two Elbow songs – namely “Grounds for Divorce” and “Snooks (Progress Report)” – while both “Time Will Bring You Winter” and “Leave Your Body Behind” echo Doves’ “Firesuite”. The latter also deploys one of the album’s other tried-and-trusted formulas, that of bass notes descending in semi-tones (think “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks), as well as that trusty beginner’s trick of moving an E chord all up a semi-tone to create a Spanish guitar effect. Having said all this, it does go on to build quite breathtakingly in intensity by dint of a choir and an electric guitar freaking out, although this is a rare moment of genuine ingenuity.
“Don’t Stare at the Sun” is probably the most successful track here, coming over like a cross between Lambchop and Tinder Sticks but with more of a Beatles-y pop sensibility, not to mention a vocal that sounds rather like Damon Albarn. Building gradually into an Abbey Road-like climax, it’s the first song on Standing at the Sky’s Edge to justify its running time (five minutes and 49 seconds) and showcases what might be possible should Hawley decide to stick with the whole ‘psych’ thing on his next record.
Overall, this album sounds fine, even at times epic and euphoric, but it all just feels so easy, like the musical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. If you’re not into over-thinking these matters, Standing at the Sky’s Edge could really take you on a journey. However, if you already own The Last Broadcast and/or Cast of Thousands, you might as well just stick one of those on instead.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!