After years of keeping indie kids on their toes with sprightly pop punk, Graham Coxon reaches for his trusty acoustic for his latest studio album.
And it’s a concept album, no less – the epic folk of ‘The Spinning Top’ may well be the most daring move of Coxon’s solo career. Inspired by the groundbreaking recordings of finger pickers such as Davey Graham and John Martyn, the former (and soon to be reunited) Blur axeman has crafted a beguiling album that – when it works – can stand proud as his most satisfying album to date.
Telling the tale of a man from birth to death, Coxon seems to be answering critics who claimed his solo output was marred by slight, throwaway lyrics. Sure, scratchy punk singles might inspire him – but those guys didn’t know any better, and Coxon was in Blur. Recruiting legendary Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson for a bit of authenticity, album opener ‘Look Into The Light’ is a charming introduction. Buoyed by a jaunty guitar riff, Coxon’s gentle voices intones some rhymed lyrics that seem to cross the symbolism of Nick Drake with the simplicity of Syd Barrett’s solo recordings. Try as he might, Coxon can never shake off the influence of the Cambridge psych hero, with his clipped English accent recalling the doomed Pink Floyd songwriter at every turn.
Throughout the album Coxon aims to pay tribute to the heroes of the British folk boom. ‘In The Morning’ contains guitar lines that echo the experiments of Bert Jansch, but often sound too close to a homage, as if the guitarist is struggling to find his own voice. On pieces such as ‘Dead Bees’ Coxon straps on his trusty Telecaster to remind us all that underneath he is a rock and roller, producing a snarling blues stomp.
‘Sorrow’s Army’ is a stunning display of virtuosity, with Coxon’s voice rarely sounding better. However, throughout the album there is a feeling that he has over-stretched himself. Yes, the music might recall the work of the great folk modernists, but without any link to traditional music to rebel against it often sounds like ‘The Spinning Top’ is following a template, rather than setting an agenda. Having said that, the album deserves to be judged on its own merits and songs such as ‘Far From Everything’ rightly stand amongst the most accomplished of his career.
Album finale ‘November’ sees our protagonist heading towards his death, with Coxon’s quaking voice intoning the last rites over creaking accordions. Ultimately what impresses most about this album is not Graham Coxon’s dedication to a style, but his own individual songwriting skill. With a Blur reunion in the offing, it is difficult to see such a unique talent being easily consumed back into the group dynamic.