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.