CD Review of Lady’s Bridge by Richard Hawley
Recommended if you like
Divine Comedy, Lilac Time,
Roy Orbison
Richard Hawley:
Lady’s Bridge

Reviewed by David Medsker


n 2006, when the Arctic Monkeys won the Mercury Prize for their album Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, they were…well, there’s just no other way to put it: they were embarrassed. The reason? The wrong album won, in their minds. So they accepted the award, but the first thing they did when they took the stage was set the record straight. “Somebody call 999. Richard Hawley’s been robbed,” lead singer Alex Turner said. Then they briefly said some thanks in a language that might have been Elvish, and left the stage.

The album that was supposedly robbed was Coles Corner, Hawley’s fourth solo album following stints in the Longpigs and as a touring guitarist for Pulp. It’s a beautiful record, filled with melancholy ballads that fit Hawley’s melancholy baritone like a glove. The greatest asset to Coles Corner, however, is also its greatest liability. It’s pretty and sad, and then…it’s pretty and sad some more, and then the album closes with something really pretty and really sad. With very little tempo variation, Coles Corner may be worthy of the Mercury Prize, but it’ll kill your next dinner party.

He addresses that issue with his latest, Lady’s Bridge. It is pretty and sad like its predecessor, but it also has a much-needed boost of energy. Saying it has a spring in its step might be stretching the truth somewhat, but compared to Coles Corner, this album might as well be The Ramones.

The songwriting on Lady’s Bridge has three main grooves. There are the pastoral pop songs like “I’m Looking for Someone to Find Me” and “The Sea Calls,” the latter of which could easily pass for a lost Lilac Time track circa Looking for a Day in the Night. There are also the orchestral, Scott Walker-inspired moments like the heartbreaking opener “Valentine” and “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” which is like a kinder, gentler version of Pulp’s “Disco 2000.” Lastly, there are the songs that would sound super-sweet if Roy Orbison were still alive to sing them. “Serious” is bouncy rockabilly lite, while “Dark Road” sounds exactly like you think it sounds, with a booming baritone guitar echoing Hawley’s, um, booming baritone. The kids may not quite feel this record, but their older brothers, as well as their parents, will love it.

Music writers will bend over backwards to explain the genius of Richard Hawley, but the truth is, it’s not genius. It’s a simple matter of knowing your music history. Hawley writes songs in a way that Orbison once did, and he uses those basic but effective song structures as his guides. Yes, it sounds brilliant because of its lack of clutter compared to the overproduced, underwritten songs of today, but Hawley isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before: he’s just doing it the way that it’s supposed to be done. Sad that we should get so excited about someone who’s technically just doing their job, but that is the world we live in, whether we like it or not. We should be so lucky to have Hawley continue to shatter our lowered expectations for many years to come.

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