While Elvis Costello started aping the schmaltzy cabaret pop of Burt Bacharach years ago, he would’ve been better off sticking to rock and letting Richard Hawley canvas this terrain. Hawley’s acumen when it comes to the art of storytelling, as well as his sincerity in excavating the precious sounds of past icons like Scott Walker and Roy Orbison are virtually unmatched.
Cole’s Corner is a testament to the skills of this on/off guitarist for Pulp and former member of Longpigs. But any of his glorious indie-rock past is swept under the rug on this, his fourth solo outing. A concept album of sorts, Cole’s Corner is Hawley’s nod to an area of the same name in his hometown of Sheffield, a spot that serves as a meeting point for lovers young and old. As a result, Cole’s Corner provides the perfect setting for Hawley to play voyeur, tracking and jotting down the ups and down of modern romance.
On this 11-song collection of lush tunes, though, Hawley mostly highlights the downs, giving lovelorn souls a collection to truly appreciate. But this sad bastard music doesn’t mope and whine ad nauseum. Hawley’s sense for classic melodies and lyrical prowess give it a sultry pop standard feel that Rod Stewart’s been so desperately trying to convey on his last four records.
Hawley’s measured baritone and languid delivery swoon perfectly with slow-burning country ballads like “Darlin’ Wait for Me” and on beautifully-orchestrated, after-hours laments, including “The Ocean” and the title track — all coming off like contemporary takes on early 20th century tunes. But Hawley doesn’t sound like he’s co-opting nostalgia on Cole’s Corner to sell some records (unlike you know who). His latest is an effort that’s as timeless as it is charismatic, unhampered by fashion, trends and hipster cred … though it’s pretty certain all those elements will be drawn to it like moths to a flame nonetheless.