Last time I invested time and energy into listening to a Graham Coxon solo disc, t'was not a rewarding experience. Much as I loved the former Blur guitarguy's work from that lamented Britpop outfit, his first solo outing (produced while he still was a part of Blur), The Sky Is Too High, was pretty darn unlistenable, too enamored with the one-take approach favored by rock primitives like Billy Childish for my tastes. But hearing Coxon's current self-played solo, Love Travels at Illegal Speeds (Parlorphone), has gotten me wondering what more of his recent post-Blur work sounds like.
Speeds is just a swell set of power pop/punk songs: a quasi-autobiographical consideration of modern love's travails that's ten times snappier than the last Blur release. Listening to this set, I kept recalling the Buzzcocks' classic pop-punk collection, Singles Going Steady (high praise in my book). In fact, playing it alongside the revived Buzzcocks' most recent disc, Flat-Pack Philosophy, I couldn't help thinking that Graham sounds more like Pete Shelley & Co. than the real thing does these days.
Coxon declares his intentions with his first guitar chunks in the album opener, "Standing on My Own Again," which provides both a great extended one-note guitar solo and a chiming swoop of a guitar riff. Trés bracing. More than once I had to look at the CD's booklet just to double-check that it was released last year. Didn't I hear the Rezillos do a version of the urgent Other Man song "Don't Let Your Man Know" on their old concert album? If not, I should have; I bet Gene Reynolds would’ve done a great job on that spat-out chorus.
Coxon slows things down periodically – as with the rueful "Just A State of Mind" – perhaps to remind us of his old bandmates' facility with a sweetly doleful love song. But the overriding sound is fast and hookily familiar in all the best ways: whether he's doling out pub-rocky Wreckless Eric-isms on the very funny "What's He Got?," shrieking over guest Stephen Large's psychedelic organ in the nuggety "You Always Let Me Down," or just indulging in a 'lectric raveup on "Gimme Some Love," this disc's guaranteed to snag and hold guitar pop fans desperate for the kinda sonic kicks that moanin' melody-makers like Coldplay or Keane can't provide. Which is not to say that Coxon can't do melancholy mopery with the best of 'em – check out the elegantly self-effacing "Don't Believe Anything I Say" with its sly tropical rhythms – just to make the obvious statement the guy who drove Blur's rampaging "Song 2" is one helluva rock guitarist.
"What in the world has he got?" our bespectacled hero asks the object of his spurned affections at one point, "Cause he's just better looking than me?" Then he tosses that question aside with a guitar-&-harmonica bridge designed to demonstrate that while he may not have the looks, he clearly has a major sense of fun. Reveling in this display of just plain rockfun, you almost feel sorry for the poor dodo who doesn't realize what she once had.