The Sheffield singer-songwriter’s lush balladry is as trademark as his quiff and spectacles, and on his eighth solo album he seems to forever find unexpected new themes to inspire him. The gorgeous Emilina Says is an intriguing tale of love, male possessiveness and apparently early 20th-century activist/suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Similarly, there aren’t many songs in pop quite like Doors, a sophisticated, twanging ballad, ostensibly about taking psychedelic drugs.
Overall, after turning 52, Hawley is in more thoughtful, reflective mood.
My Little Treasures finds him staring at the night skies after an encounter with friends of his late father. Ageing and mortality inspire Midnight Train and the harmonica blues of Time Is, which has foreboding nods to the Rolling Stones (“time is on your side right now, but time will change”) and Roman grave inscriptions (“as I am now, you will be”). Another gem, Not Lonely, ruminates on the difference between solitude and loneliness.
Elsewhere, he cranks up the guitars as loud as they have been since 2012’s psych-rock outing, Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Off My Mind’s howls of distortion are closer to Oasis (or Hawley’s own Britpop era band, the Longpigs) than Roy Orbison. The anthemic Is There a Pill? is superbly epic, orchestrated rock’n’roll.
In the album’s 40 minutes, there is scarcely any flab. Twenty years into his solo career, Hawley certainly isn’t tearing up the blueprint, but within the boundaries of his domain, nobody does it better.