Kimberley Rew may not be a household name, but you’ve heard his music. Rew was the main songwriter for Katrina and the Wave. His tunes, including “Walking on Sunshine” and “Going Down to Liverpool,” were hits in the US, and “Love Shine a Light” won the Eurovision song contest in 1997. Of course, Rew was also the guitarist for the Soft Boys on both their classic album, Underwater Moonlight, and their recent revival, Nextdoorland. In other words, Kimberly Rew has quite the resume.
Essex Hideaway is a fun, but uneven outing. Rew takes us on a tour of his Britannia. We begin and end the tour in church, with hymns sung to bless the album. “Arterial Road” name checks Winnie the Pooh and Brian Jones while mourning the disruption of small town life when highways pave over farms and shops. “Jerome K. Jerome” and “Your Mother Was Born in That House” wouldn’t be out of place on a Soft Boys (or Robyn Hitchcock) album. Speaking of the Soft Boys, Rew offers up a bit of mutant music hall sing along called “That’s Soft Boy.”
The song that should really get under some people’s skin (for good or ill) is “Tourists of Insanity.” Rew pays tribute to Syd Barrett while taking a critical look at the people who have made careers out of the Barrett mystique. Rew contrasts the cult of Barrett (and indirectly other mentally ill artists like Daniel Johnston and Skip Spence) with the real suffering and debilitating effects of their illness. Of course, the Soft Boys might be considered tourists of insanity, too.
At this point in his career, Kimberley Rew doesn’t have to make records to please anyone but himself. There are quite a few songs here that I really like. What I don’t like is that the disc feels more like a catalogue of songs that happened to be finished than a coherent album.
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