Richard Hawley’s seventh album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, is, he says “an angry record”. It is an album which may prove unsavoury to the loyal fan base who have adored his bittersweet melodies, the centricity of his striking voice. Standing At The Sky’s Edge sees Hawley’s voice dwarfed by its own echo, by the corrosive, reverberating feedback, of heavily distorted guitar riffs.
The Sky’s Edge refers to an area of Sheffield that at one time combined breathtaking city views, with that of a decrepit, crime infested council estate. Hawley’s vivid storytelling conjures a bleak, uncaring world; he crafts his songs to fit his alienation well. It was 2010 which saw the death of one of Hawley’s closest friends, which Hawley describes feeling ‘as if somebody tore my arm off’. Another source of inspiration, Hawley claims is his anger ‘at what’s happening here in Britain…the present government are…kettling us in every way, closing us in and closing us down’. In the title track, Hawley depicts the blighted shards of the lives of three characters, shattered by circumstance. ‘This was the act of a desperate man’, Hawley croons, ‘he was standing on the sky’s edge…he was sliding down the razor’s edge’. His guitar solos drown in distortion; it is a glowering, chaotic, forsaken clamour. It summons images of barbed wire, a razor’s edge, a dense wall.
Whilst Hawley’s choice of album aesthetics might suggest fluorescence, technicolour, a wide-eyed, and psychedelic let-loose, Standing At The Sky’s Edge is wan: grief imbues this album. Hawley’s voice is cold on most tracks, it echoes and reverberates. Guitars collide and yowl around him; they stifle his normally direct vocals. The waves of guitar, and heavy drumming on this album play against Hawley’s traditional strengths, but then Standing At The Sky’s Edge is a curious, idiosyncratic album.
Down In The Woods hears an intense, grizzly beginning: a siren, close by, and a strong guitar riff interlaced. It is a backdrop to Hawley’s enticement: ‘won’t you follow me down?’ His voice echoes against impending distortion. It contrasts entirely with Seek It, which sees Hawley more openly charming; where his voice is more directly aimed at his listener. ‘I’ve got a secret I don’t want you to know, you can reach it if you seek it, you won’t find another’s eyes so blinded by love’. Seek It is set against a backdrop of a swirling, reverberating guitar riff. His voice is ornate; it feels like overt opulence compared with Standing At The Sky’s Edge. A soft symbol and snare are hit with a splaying drumstick; it is the kind of song which exposes the listener to Hawley’s innately beautiful vocals, he whispers to you, he creates a very human connection between himself and his listener.
Standing At The Sky’s Edge may see Hawley turning off fans of his more placid material; but I think that this album sees Hawley in his element. He conveys his newfound sense of intense morality so aptly, so sincerely and so ingeniously this way.