Graham Coxon

THE ALBUM, GRAHAM’S FINEST YET, FEATURES  MUSICAL CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ROBYN HITCHCOCK AND DANNY THOMPSON.
It’s common knowledge that Graham Coxon has, over the course of seven albums, been responsible for some remarkable, genre bending and shape shifting rock and roll music.  What mightn’t be as well known is that you needn’t look in to Blur’s back catalogue at all in order to reach this conclusion – Coxon’s solo output, which with the release of The Spinning Top now stands at as many LPs as his buddies in Blur have managed in twice the time together, is itself one of the richest and most varied collections of forward thinking guitar music of recent years.
Since the release of his debut solo effort, the charmingly ramshackle The Sky Is Too High in 1998, the music of Graham Coxon has encompassed everything from lo-fi acoustic explorations and dissonant squall to tongue-in-cheek jazz and brash, brilliant power pop, with The Golden D, Crow Sit On Blood Tree and The Kiss Of Morning further offering smatterings of mournful country ‘n western, blistering punk noise and plaintive, minimal ballads for good measure.  Then of course came a temporary departure from Blur, and a resulting pair of albums (Happiness and Magazines and Love Travels At Illegal Speeds) that saw a freer, more assured Coxon armed with tunes that were able to seriously bother the charts as well as warrant headline slots at festivals the world over.
Now reunited with Blur, it’s clear his solo work remains a pressing concern, far more than a mere side project or hobby.  Of late, we’re told he found his compositions falling in to two piles, one of what he describes in characteristically self-deprecating fashion as “whiny post-punk” and another, more folk-influenced bunch, taking its cues from the likes of Martin Carthy, John Martyn and Davy Graham.  The Spinning Top is a record born of that latter pile.
Though, like its immediately preceding pair of albums Happiness in Magazines and Love Travels at Illegal Speeds, Stephen Street is once again present on production duties, The Spinning Top (recorded at the late, great Olympic Studios in the spring/summer of 2008) is a world away from the bold indie hooks of either of those LPs, or indeed, much that Street himself has been associated to prior.  Sounding more like an undiscovered folk classic of yore, certain sections such as the beauteous opener ‘Look In To The Light’ have a rhythmic complexity and gentle sincerity that could honestly be Nick Drake, yet though the aforementioned influences are worn proudly on the record’s sleeve (and guest appearances from Robyn Hitchcock, Jas Singh, Gurjit Sembhi, Jaskase Singh, Danny Thompson, Graham Fox and Louis Vause make this the most multi-membered G.C. LP to date), there’s still much about The Spinning Top that is overwhelmingly and unmistakably Coxon.
Unveiling a far more picking-based style of guitar work largely devoid of simplistic strumming or jarring, chunky chords, it’s not a manner of playing one would necessarily immediately associate with the man behind the seminal “what the?!” solo on Blur’s ‘Coffee & TV’, though clearly, it’s another one he’s mastered.  Yet this wide-eyed approach to uncharted waters should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed his career to date.  Neither should the fact that, though The Spinning Top might be largely a spooky, spectacular acoustic effort (the result of, finally, “finding an acoustic guitar I didn’t hate”), the temptation to unleash some guttural discordance was occasionally too hard to resist – moments such as ‘Dead Bees’, ‘Caspian Sea’ and ‘If You Want Me’ all provide the record with exhilarating instances of increased volume.
It’s a full album, conceptually dense, seemingly removed from any current trend or scene.  Its way of generating reward in direct proportion to how much time is spent with it is indicative of the fact that The Spinning Top delights in being an LP in an old fashioned sense of the term, authored with those in mind who appreciate getting lost in a body of work, rather than having the most digestible snippets spoon-fed to them.  Indeed, some of the album’s catchiest moments come amidst its most epic songs – ‘Brave The Storm’, for instance, or the eight and a half minute opus ‘In The Morning’ (a more beautiful song than which has surely ne’er been found).
From whichever angle you approach it, in terms of guitar work, general coherence, songwriting or vocal prowess, The Spinning Top is undoubtedly his finest solo work to date.  With regards to the latter, it’s perhaps due to the fact that there’s a lyrical density on this latest LP not tackled before that provides Coxon with a new found strength to his voice.  This is a concept record detailing a man’s birth, childhood and adolescence, tragic death in war, resurrection at the hands of a she-spirit and ultimate second death… in a sinking church… that manages to indulge with utmost grace themes both fantastical and psychedelic as well as topics the author has spent his entire life obsessing over, namely, “love, girls and magic.”
The true triumph of The Spinning Top is that one can get as lost in its delicate melodic beauty as in its curiously engaging narrative, that tapping one’s feet nonchalantly along with it is as appropriate a reaction as scratching one’s head wondering whatever will happen to its protagonist next (surely nobody saw the sinking church bit coming?).  It’s the sound of a man whose music you thought you knew trying new ways of writing and playing, operating outside of a comfort zone with unprecedented success, sounding like no other Graham Coxon record you’ll ever have heard, yet still, masterfully, sounding like a record only Graham Coxon could have made.
Tom Hannan


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