Graham Coxon – ‘The Sky Is Too High’ Review

The others were more predictable....

The others were more predictable. Damon’s solo album: a triple opus rock opera called [I]Darren[/I], the story of a deaf, dumb and asthmatic accountant from Colchester. Alex’s solo album: ironic footie chants called ‘Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go (Down Groucho’s With Stephen Fry)’. Dave’s solo album: the theme from [I]Jimbo[/I], but with more drumming.

But Graham? El Coxo Eclectico? ‘Blur’ was allegedly his album, a chance to smear his post-grunge vision across Blur’s immaculate pop visage, to cake Damon’s sheen with unsightly guitar sludge. So what would happen if you gave him his own label (Transcopic) and allowed him free range to record the album he’d wished ‘Blur’ [I]could [/I]have been?

Brace yourselves. For here’s his first solo opus for our enjoyment – a rough-edged and hairy-toothed beast, not so much the album’s worth of ‘You’re So Great’s that we hoped for, more the sound of one of Britain’s most talented songwriters sticking his head in a bucket of chopped liver and moaning for 11 tracks. It’s a record that trawls the depths of recording practices unfathomed outside of Lou Barlow’s bedroom and never ventures within a thousand leagues of a ‘real’ producer. As though Graham, driven to distraction from playing ‘Girls And Boys’ once too bloody often, has taken a screwdriver to the innards of his guitars, crept into the Good Mixer toilets with a Dictaphone and a ruptured acoustic and knocked up an album of raw, ragged and rudimentary genius in about 15 minutes.

There’s an inescapable whiff of artifice, however – the accomplished guitarist pretending to fumble his way through two-chord whiners like ‘Me You, We Two’ and ‘R U Lonely?’ with all the confidence of a geography teacher bashing out ‘Kumbaya’; the interstellar tune craftsman writing songs less complex than ‘Vindaloo’ (‘In A Salty Sea’, ‘Waiting’); the grown man writing his sleeve-notes in the style of a retarded six-year-old. The great and good unlearning their precious skills and pretending to be bollocks in a bucket, in essence. Scientists call it The Paul McCartney Busking In A False Beard To See If Anyone Notices Syndrome and it comes into full cringeworthy effect on ‘Mornin’ Blues’, the record’s abysmal cod-blues coda that was seemingly recorded [I]under [/I]the studio on a one-string banjo. Ouch.

But no matter how much Graham tries to muffle, moderate or, in ‘That’s All I Wanna Do’, bury his talent under a mighty avalanche of Dinosaur Jr effluent, he can’t hide from The Tunes. ‘Hard And Slow’ is a wistful beauty, half Yo La Tengo, half Simon & Garfunkel. And ‘Who The Fuck?’ is a brilliant pastiche of Coxo’s bandmates, a frantic fireball thrash of yob chanting, amphetamine gibberish and spittle, like ‘Parklife’ on a tequila rampage with a sharpened copy of ‘Vindaloo’ up its arse. Inspired.

If ‘The Sky…’ proves one thing it’s that Blur are a weird but inseparable concoction. Damon brings the crux, Alex the class, Dave the clatter and Graham the clutter. Alone Graham’s a maverick, dreamily scraping nuggets of blood from his record collection but unable to stretch far beyond it. Still, a bit more fi by and by and he’ll fly, bleedin’ high.