Richard Hawley – ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’

Hawley has discharged a beautiful storm of brimstone

The slashers, the gamblers, the thieves; Sky Edge in Sheffield wasn’t the celestial scene the name suggests. In the 1920s the Flying Squad came to Yorkshire to clean up the gang warfare and gambling that blighted this lawless promontory overlooking the city. And it’s to his hometown’s crow’s nest that Richard Hawley – Bard Of Steel City – has come to gaze down upon the degradation below.

Short-sighted commentators might argue that MGMT and The Horrors rejuvenated psych rock for the 21st century. In reality they’ve just reminded the likes of Hawley and Paul Weller to dig out their 13th Floor Elevators albums and revisit their real roots. Hawley has always had a telescopic view of rock history, discarding the modern pop frivolities of his guitar work with Longpigs and Pulp to record Mercury-nominated, string-shrouded albums in thrall to Lee Hazlewood, Nancy Sinatra, Scott Walker and Duane Eddy. Now he finally feels nostalgia’s gotten old, and for this seventh album he’s sacked the string section, fired up the psychedelic wah-wah and splurged on the nuclear sunset sounds of early Floyd, The Stooges, and – if we’re to allow him more modern references – early Verve and Spiritualized. Hawley himself claims more visceral influences: it was, he says, the realisation there’s no afterlife combined with how hot he finds his wife that made him cram ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ and ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ with sounds like nebulae fucking.

The latter is a love song to Hawley’s wife so cosmic and cataclysmic he must’ve stolen Andromeda off of Thor. The title track is an urban murder ballad denouncing Sheffield knife crime via a Sopranos-theme thump, American Gothic guitars and the delta swamp fog of a poltergeist Afghan Whigs – so creepy it makes a wet Tuesday in Pitsmoor sound like a True Blood gore orgy. The serrated sea-scree of ‘Time Will Bring You Winter’ envisions a Marie Celeste voyage manned by Rhys Webb, while ‘Down In The Woods’ is all seismic MC5 garage punk featuring such astral imagery as “my eyes are blinded by solar flares” and credited with – a first for a Richard Hawley album – the playing of ‘rocket noises’.

But it’s not all Grecian gods farting gusts of gold, mind. Old-school Hawley fans will be appeased with the lilting ballroom ballad ‘Seek It’, the mirrorball meander of ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ (imagine if the Sonic Cathedral label did lounge-style public service announcements) and the noir-folk tribute to an ancient Sheffield monument, ‘The Wood Collier’s Grave’, which he steeps in invented legend and import. It’s the psychotropic noise blasts like ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ that will make ‘…Sky’s Edge’ one of 2012’s most celebrated albums though, and Hawley – alongside Weller – one of it’s most unexpected space cadets.

Mark Beaumont

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