You can attempt to make different kinds of music. Try and write stuff that’s cluttered, busy and overabundant; try and make something quiet and solemn with a tendency to drag; even try to make something loud but inviting with rich hooks – but whatever you do, don’t ever fool yourself into thinking anyone can do it. Richard Hawley has, quietly, delivered one of the most solid solo careers of the past decade. His arch – both seamless and successful – has always been about making good, honestly melodic and affluent music. And with every passing album comes a new reward: something to behold with esteemed results.
He’s an inviting person, one who works with musicians from both sides of the pond in an effort to spread good music to all. And while Hawley’s made a name for himself with his swooning baritone and his impeccable skill at writing gorgeous melodies, he’s never sounded as nakedly lush as he does on his new album, Truelove’s Gutter. Make no qualms about it, as the title may suggest, this is not a love album in any shape or form. Named after a location in Hawley’s native Sheffield, this is Hawley’s darkest album to date. But by leaps and bounds, brilliantly composed, it’s also one of his finest recordings with supreme ease.
For starters, in terms of instrumentation, there are many bare moments to be had on Truelove’s Gutter. With the exception of a few flashes, the songs are decorated with sparsely whispered moments of quietness. An exercise in reservation, Hawley depicts some of the lowest moments of his life and those around him with music that can be described in one word: breathtaking. Because it isn’t how big and outlandish your music can be; as Hawley proves, projection is all about how much of yourself you are devoting and just how carefully conveyed it all is.
One of those moments, where everything seems to come spilling out of the boiling pot, is the vastly vibrant, “Soldier On”. The foreshadowing comes at the beginning with the ominous sounds of dissonant chords that are both minor and augmented. Describing a life that is lonely, Hawley tells of mustering on even when it feels entirely impossible. Avoiding the abyss, the music is capered with the softest touches of strings and piano. Eventually, after searching for the kiss that never comes, the music erupts with a sudden force of sound: the drums pound, the guitars roar and the strings shred. And even after everything comes crashing down, Hawley closes the song using the same line that he opened with, “Never say goodbye, you’re the apple of my eye.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how musical these eight tour de forces feel. The focus is on the silent side of life and Hawley is able to contort and weave the sounds to paint a heartbreaking picture. Where 2007’s Lady’s Bridge opened with the soft strumming of an electric guitar followed by the swaying use of strings, Truelove’s Gutter creeps in slowly and gently with the stunning use of aurally spectral instrumentation, atmospherics and a superb acoustic guitar melody. Both have their strengths, neither possessing any weakness, the latter is just a bit more, special.
Never throughout any of this will your heart feel shattered, Hawley isn’t singing just about relationships but about the problems we come across just to get by. Whether he’s telling us to let all of the good come shining in with the help of flourishing strings that take control of the music (“Open Up Your Door”) or embattling us to forget the pain and seek the jubilation by way of a calming guitar and his yearning as he sings, “Your lover’s ghostly memory, haunts you all your days” on “Don’t You Cry”, there is too much to adore and savor.
Hawley described the sounds as something he could only hear but not really describe. So when the time came to piece everything together, the use of unique tools was seen as the norm. But it doesn’t matter that you’re using the waterphone, mega bass or cristal baschet because the only true factor is the artistic expression. Hawley has made an exceptionally perfect album with Truelove’s Gutter: it’s endearing, uplifting and absolutely beautiful, what else could you ask for?