Richard Hawley is a Sheffield institution; like Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey he is as much a staple of the northern English city as steel, housing schemes and hills.
His star has fairly risen in recent years and he now can’t be ignored. I did that a few years ago when a record label sent his album to be reviewed, claiming it was the best thing since gluten-free sliced bread. It certainly wasn’t, in fact I found it tiresome and didn’t review it. Times change, as do people and Hawley’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge is one of a number of fine albums seeped in 60s spiritualism. The cover reminds me of The Horrors’ Skying from last year and there are subtle links to that album, the lofty ambitions of the guitar playing, and the sense, in true psychedelic tradition, of two songs playing at the same time.
Sitars mingle with distorted guitars on the opener, the seven-minute She Brings The Sun, and I’m transported back to the meeting that never happened between The Beatles and The Byrds.
Later a surge of guitars drone out and out from the start to Down Into The Woods and the incessant hum continues for the remainder of this wonderful little buzz. It’s surprising, and refreshing to have a massive gear change, with Seek It offering beautiful harmonies, a love song without the clichés.
It’s those kind of delicious melodies I associate with Saint Etienne, the English three-piece that were all over the charts and television in the 1990s, a time when you could be retro and sound hip. They disappeared for some time, but here they are again, with an album about how music has shaped their lives. It begins in a Black Box Recorder style with Sarah Cracknell reminiscing about her childhood. “In 1974 I bought my first single, from Woollies in Redhill.”
Words and Music reminds us that the magic is always about – whether it comes from the Record Doctor, who dispenses happiness through tunes, the knicker-wetting excitement elicited by seeing your favourite ever band (Tonight), or just a song about a DJ.
I’ve Got Your Music works despite sounding like Dutch handbag house from 1996 while Popular is another trip back to the era with a lot of beats and rhymes. It’s a pretty aimless song and not the only one. After a pop-fuelled start their eighth studio albums falters as it becomes difficult to determine what they’re actually trying to achieve. I’ll keep on playing that opener, Over The Border.