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Music Review: Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

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I had such high hopes for Richard Hawley. British singer-songwriter, Jarvis Cocker's guitarist from Pulp, known in his solo work for folky acoustic numbers about love and loss, nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize (Britain’s annual new music award) for his previous CD Coles Corner — it sounded like he’d be right up my alley.

Well, he may be up somebody’s alley, but sadly it’s not mine. His most recent album Lady’s Bridge actually irritated me the more I played it. While there’s something pleasing about Hawley’s warm, slightly gruff baritone, ultimately its laid-back quality began to drag the album down for me. To make things even worse, his slight, lilting ballads are made to carry a big-production load of strings and back-up choruses that they just can't live up to.

Hawley strikes me as a profoundly lazy songwriter, too — there’s no development in his songs, no hidden story, no clever word play, just over-worked musical hooks and title phrases. The dreary predictability of rhymes like "in love / stars above," "home / roam," "returning / yearning" are like paint-by-numbers lyric-writing. And Richard, here's a tip: a clumsy line like "We lost the dreams that we once had / How did our lives turn out so bad?" really doesn't bear repeating twice.

The one Hawley song I’d heard before — the one that first made me curious about him — is a spry number called “Serious” that's still kind of a kick. Unfortunately, it's not typical; though he hauls out the same catchy syncopation and self-deprecating humor on "I'm Looking For Someone To Find Me," the wit promised by those chipper tunes never materializes.

Otherwise, it's one solipsistic chin-stroker after another, with generic titles like "Valentine," "Roll River Roll," "Lady Solitude," "The Sea Calls," "Our Darkness," and "The Sun Refused to Shine," all of which set out their subject matter in the title and never take it one step further in the body of the song. 

In this digital age, that may not be such a drawback; taken one track at a time, Hawley's music seems quite plausible indeed.  And if you don't actually listen to the lyrics.  And um, it would make excellent airport music, too. (See, Richard, I'm trying to help you out here.)  

Lady’s Bridge reminded me of a bad boyfriend who’s always sprawled on your sofa watching your TV, calling out to the kitchen to be brought another beer. I am so over him. 

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About Holly Hughes

  • Nicely done Holly. I guess I can scratch this off my list.

  • i never got the the bad lyrics, because that voice made me want to get out my ear/ice pick.

  • It occurs to me that perhaps I’m not the audience for this CD. I did try to like it…

    I’m glad you didn’t opt for the ice pick, Mark. Besides preserving your valuable eardrums, it saved you from the agony of wading through the droning lyrics.

  • i guess i’m just not a fan of guys crooning in pop and rock music…which would explain why i never liked Roxy Music.

  • Don’t scratch this off so fast, Mat. This is well written, Holly. I just came to a really different conclusion. Sir Brewster, you can be the tiebreaker.

  • Josh, I took one more listen to this CD after reading your review. I can see where you’re coming from, but I still can’t agree — maybe you got a different version, one where Hawley’s lyrics seem crisper and the arrangements less smarmy? I generally respect your taste (hence the re-listen) but in this case, we’re listening with different ears, I guess.

  • ooh, “smarmy”…that’s perfect!

  • Holly, that’s really very kind of you say. I really appreciate it and can say part of the reason I commented here is because I’ve enjoyed your work as well. I was surprised we came to such different conclusions but I sometimes suffer from a little ego and tunnel vision and don’t understand why everyone doesn’t hear what I hear. 😉 I still think you’ve written an excellent review that’s perfectly defensible even though we hear it differently.

    I — before reading the comments here today — listened to a few of my favorite tracks from Lady’s Bridge and I hear liquid arrangements, not smarmy. I still think it’s just a wonderful record.

    Great work here. It must just be a case of different ears and that is no bad thing.