Richard Hawley's Standing at the Sky's Edge is a masterful piece of work, an artistic statement of longing and love and liberation supported by mesmerizing guitar and beautiful songcraft.
The Sheffield-born English guitarist and singer has amassed quite a career for himself, urged as he was by the lads in Pulp to start releasing his solo work. After a brief stint with the aforementioned band, Hawley released a mini-album in April of 2001 and followed up with Late Night Final later that year.
He's also worked as a session musician, plunging in with artists as diverse as Lisa Marie Presley and Arctic Monkeys. And yes, that's him playing the guitar part on the All Saints cover of "Under the Bridge."
Now that his sixth studio release is here, the consequence of those experiences and of life in Sheffield has begun to take hold. Standing at the Sky's Edge is a deeply personal work, perhaps the product of being 45 and staring into the precipice that is the remainder of life or perhaps the product of being really, really good at what he does. Probably both.
Hawley's new record is exquisitely accessible and extraordinarily compelling, proving that the two elements need not be exclusive. True artistry, the kind flowing through these nine remarkable pieces, exceeds categories and other restrictions to rest on the shoulders of listeners everywhere.
"She Brings the Sunlight" opens Standing at the Sky's Edge like a shock of adoration. "The song is about being physically attracted to someone you love," he says. "People talk about that like it's a cheesy thing, but I wanted to do justice to what it really feels like. I want to fucking applaud when my wife walks into a room. It's like a revelation."
From that sunlit disclosure to the title track, the guitar-driven sound drives up and down the rock and roll highway. A slender Doors influence moseys through "Standing at the Sky's Edge," with Hawley sometimes growling like Jim Morrison while toying with the song's organic strain.
Whether the spirited charm of "Seek It" or the burning, dramatic recognition of "Leave Your Body Behind," Hawley's Standing at the Sky's Edge is a vast statement from an artist more likely to hide his gift away. Built on reverberating guitar tracks and penetrating melody-making, this is one of the best albums of the year.