At first, you may not know that Truelove’s Gutter is a Richard Hawley album. Sure, you would have bought a copy, seen Hawley’s shadowy bespectacled mug on the cover, and been completely sure that you were investing in a known quantity. The ambient textures that introduce “As the Dawn Breaks” might have you fooled, however. This is not a typical album from the lauded throwback Sheffield artist. Rather than jangling rockabilly guitars, Truelove’s Gutter is wall-to-wall atmosphere, and that atmosphere is dark, dark, dark.
That’s not to say that this is new territory for the swoon inducing Hawley. Throughout all of his previous five albums, there have been moments of loneliness, misery, regret and depression. But those songs feel like hoedowns compared to the tracks on Gutter. And I, for one, can’t get enough of it. True, I’m a sucker for dark themes, usually for the idea that you can take comfort knowing that other people either have it worse, or at least feel your pain. But nothing could have prepared me for the emotional resonance within each track on Richard Hawley’s latest album.
As opposed to previous releases, Hawley’s guitar rarely takes center stage. There is nothing like “Tonight, the Streets Are Ours” on Gutter. Instead, Hawley’s voice and lyrics are the centerpieces, with the guitar rarely venturing out to make a hasty entrance and exit, as with “Remorse Code.” The songs on the album plumb the darkest depths of the soul, mostly from Hawley’s own experiences, and the tragedies associated with good friends. All the while, instrumentation is, if not simplistic, at least stripped down to its barest essence. Gutter finds Hawley to be at least as great an editor as he is a writer and singer.
Editing does not, however, enter into the picture on songs like the aforementioned “Remorse Code,” about a friend’s cocaine addiction, or “Don’t You Cry,” about another friend who just can’t get past her…well, past. We are the better for it. These tracks, ten minutes each, are colossal. Like a great independent film or a gutsy cable drama, they take their time in getting to where they’re going. And in the end, it’s not really about where they’re going as it is about where they linger. Hawley, proving he’s not one for doing things the same way on every album, experiments with different sounds on the latter track, employing the use of eastern sounding waterphones and a crystal baschet.
According to the rumored story, Mute label head, Daniel Miller, probed Hawley, asking him if he had anything in the tank that he wanted to release, regardless of commercial viability. Hawley did indeed have something in mind, though he warned that there were no `singles’ in the collection. That album is Truelove’s Gutter, and we are the beneficiaries of a not-so calculated risk. It’s not always easy to revel in songs of misery and heartbreak, but it’s never been so luxuriating.
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