Album review: Richard Hawley – Further

A founding myth of our green unpleasant land suggests that England will fall if the Tower of London’s ravens leave, an idea that has persisted for nearly a thousand years despite it being widely understood for most of that time that ravens are non-migratory and this particular subset of the species have their wings clipped to prevent them leaving the site.

But that’s the South. They’re odd down there. Up in God’s own, though, we have a variation on that folk belief. Should Richard Hawley ever stop living in, writing about, referencing or championing Sheffield, then Sheff will fall.

Luckily for us, from Lowedges on, Sheffield runs through Richard Hawley’s career and work like the Porter Brook: a meandering course that touches every part of the city from the rich folks on the hill to the rusting hulks in the valley basin below that remind us all of what Sheffield and her people once were.

Is this still the case with Further, his first release since joining BMG and his first not to be named specifically after a place in Sheffield? Or should we be stockpiling tinned food and checking our house prices?

Those of you who loved the man because of the way he married melancholy, thoughtful songwriting to an impeccable 50s noir vibe and shot it through with the wry observational grit of South Yorkshire will find a lot to like on Further. But it’s also an album built around an objective: to ‘get the message across like a bullet.’ The glam-rock Oasis-stomp of lead single ‘Off My Mind’ reflects Hawley’s urge to keep everything moving and get in and out in three minutes or less. Spiritually, it’s a logical extension of Hawley’s previous work. After all, glam-rock was what happened when the 60s dream finally died and what was needed was what rock ‘n’ roll had been all along: a big dumb ton of fun. ‘Alone’, ‘Galley Girl’ and ‘Is There a Pill’, which is central to the album, all fulfil the mission statement.

But there is depth and nuance and consideration among the loud. ‘My Little Treasures’ should reassure long-term Hawleyites that the man has not deserted them. Taking twelve years to record, it’s a beautiful song recalling meeting two of his father’s friends following his death in 2007 in all of its emotional complexity. Similarly, ‘Emilina’, ‘Midnight Train’, and ‘Doors’ indicate that a winning way with a sumptuous ballad is still there. In the same way that the swagger of the best Manchester bands came across in the accent, there’s something in Hawley’s defiantly South Yorkshire delivery that just packs an emotional punch, especially when surrounded with such sumptuous arrangements.

Ultimately, while not necessarily an album specifically about Sheffield, it is an album about love, place, belonging and personal space. However you cut it, it’s great, evolving the more you listen to it. Edinburgh had Rabbie Burns. London had Charles Dickens. We’ve got Richard Hawley and he writes better tunes than both of them. Stand down, we’re in safe hands.

Further is released 31st May. 

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