Richard Hawley

Truelove's Gutter

In many ways, Truelove’s Gutter is typical Richard Hawley: steadfastly old-fashioned, made up of proper songs for proper people. Yet there are some little surprises too. Or big surprises, for some of them last as long as 10 minutes — not since Morrissey’s ill-advised cover of ‘Moon River’ have songs so simplistic been drawn out with such a lack of concern for the listener’s patience. Yet on a certain level, this arrogant refusal to get on with it is to be admired. Like the Henry Mancini classic, these tunes hark back to a different era. It’s like rock ‘n’ roll, let alone punk, never happened.

That’s not to say that this is a meat and potato pie of a record. Opening track ‘As the Dawn Breaks’ begins with a solitary note which steadily fades in and doesn’t . . . well, it doesn’t really do anything at all aside from sustain for a while. It’s a brave decision, and it pays off, alerting the listener to the fact this will be more of an ambient experience than Hawley’s previous outings. There’s a whole one minute fifteen that elapses before the guitars are heard, and a full 1:40 before the man himself graces us with his dulcet baritone. He starts as he intends to continue, and with characteristic northern obdurateness, Hawley will not be rushed. "As the dawn breaks, over roof slates, hope hung on every washing line . . ." he sings, his life again sounding like a sepia-toned kitchen sink drama set in some fuliginous terrace suspended somewhere in the 1950s.

Hawley, a stalwart of the Steel City who stubbornly refuses to acquiesce to that bloody London, is hardly known for his gregariousness, but his new record is mostly bleak. With its industrial backdrop and gritty misery, it’s like a 21st-century Hard Times, a very 20th-century sound. When the songs are good, like, the waltzy, schmaltzy Johnny Cash-influenced ‘Ashes on the Fire’, or ‘Open Up the Door’ — which builds like a cruise ship classic and could have been written with Tony Christie in mind — it’s a pleasure to partake in. When they’re bad, like ‘Remorseless Code’, with its hackneyed lyric about ‘white lines’ and an outro that could be a freeform Fleetwood Mac ‘jam’ from the doleful Albatross, they’re just dull.

Lyrically, like Morrissey, Hawley refuses to engage with the present, and drops lines like ‘you’re the beauty of the town’ as if to emphasise his parochial sensibility. There’s some nice black humour on ‘For Your Lover Give Some Time’, where Hawley buys a birthday present for his lover “that almost took your breath away / but to be honest I nearly left it on the train”. The Scott Walker-esque ballad conjures up the dissatisfaction when a relationship turns stale, a topic rarely explored in song, and one which he nails.

Truelove’s Gutter is not ironically titled, and on the whole does not make for an easy listen, though patience will eventually bear fruit. Whether it’s as durable as Cole’s Corner is doubtful. There’s a soporific quality to the final song, ‘Don’t You Cry’ that makes it a damp squib on an otherwise mostly engaging record. As with so many relationships that turn sour, it’s a protracted, and ultimately unhappy ending.

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