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Graham Coxon - A+E (Album Review)

Thursday, 22 March 2012 Written by James Ball
Graham Coxon - A+E (Album Review)

Blur are everywhere again at the moment. They've sold out another Hyde Park gig just three years after their much heralded comeback and rumours continue to spread about new material. So former wantaway axe-man Graham Coxon shows the world he's still more than capable of bringing out an epic record on his own, and you seriously have to hear it to believe it.

ImageOpener 'Advice' is a punky, stabby, unwashed slab of pure fuzz. A statement that would sound negative to most, except that the whole thing is exactly how it should sound. It would be incredibly dull if any of it was tidied up. This song has already reintroduced proper indie rock back to my ears and boy how it has been missed. If Joe Strummer was still around, he'd approve. 'City Hall' follows, and manages to sound equally grimy without being anything remotely like the opener. A repeating 4/4 bass line with single electric drum with occasional “Come down to the city hall” wailed over the top while the guitars occasionally interrupt with some kind of incomprehensible noise doesn't sound that inspiring, but the whole thing just...works. I could never tell you why, other than Coxon et al know what their listeners want. They want to be challenged by their music and enjoy the ride they're taken on. This could just have been a garage jam, and sounds exactly like one, but it's far too well put together for that, and thats where, just two songs in, 'A+E' is quickly becoming my first favourite album of 2012

'What It'll Take' is the first potential festival singalong anthem of the album. The following description won't make it sound like one but I can see fields going apeshit for this. A twinkly computerised alarm, for lack of a better term, dribbles all over the main melody while Coxon belts out “I don't know, I don't know what's really wrong with me”. It has to be heard to be believed. It's like The Strokes had a fist fight with a Dalek. It's incredible. “Meet, Drink and Pollinate” sadly isn't a track imagining Keith Richards as a wasp, but, ironically does sound like a bad trip he's had. Psychedelic, very new-wave and with a grungy undertone. These first four tracks have been mostly repeated lines with long musical interludes. The story, if there is one, is being told through the varied and clever use of guitars, drums, and lots of things that bleep.

Then 'The Truth' happens, and the album gets really serious for a second. The bass plays out something close to the brown noise, backs up by an even lower drone and off beat squeal. The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are all right now slamming their heads on the desk knowing they should have written this. Lo-fi grungy guitars all slam in en masse about 90 seconds in and you get the overwhelming urge you've done something wrong and the album's pissed off with you. You're in trouble, and this is your punishment, and it's deserved too. 'Seven Naked Valleys' follows a melodic structure very similar to Radioheads 'National Anthem' but, for the first time in this record, doesn't quite hit the expectation. On an album where the first half has been entirely a conglomerate of fused ideas making a messy, yet refined and incredible sound, this track, while still fuzzy and gritty, could still have been bashed out in a few minutes by comparison. Well, until near the end when a sound similar to a modem exploding filled my headphones with a surprising jolt just to make sure I wasn't falling asleep. This is then followed by 'Running For Your Life' which is the sound of...well, running for your life. The opening sequence of Trainspotting could (almost) have been set to large parts of this song. The closest this album comes to throwing out a bona fide protest. This is an angry track, and Coxon snarls out “We don't like your haircut or your attitude/Get back down the M1 cos we don't like you” as cymbals crash and you can only but wonder what's set him off. Strong, powerful and quintessential Coxon at his best here. 'Bah Singer' just wanders in, slaps you about the face and leaves.

So we get to the penultimate track 'Knife in the Cast' and for the first time, the unrelenting pace lets up for this uneasy, dark epic. Just because the track isn't the rip-roaring assault we've gone through the past 80% of the album doesn't make it any less inventive or intricate. Every seemingly random drum crash, every seemingly lost riff, every little noise has been carefully planned to make the track sound like a lost, wounded wanderer heading off into the unknown. Six minutes of this eerie, malevolent, passive aggressive calm lead into 'Oh Yeh Yeh', a track that sounds entirely out of place. In fact, it sounds like Blur-meets-Springsteen. A not entirely unwelcome combination whatsoever, but it's so deeply unexpected after the nine tracks of audio distortion that preceded this.

So, in summary, this is a deep, clever and immersive album that demands the listener pay attention or else it'll whip you with the back of its hand, and you'll have no problems doing that whatsoever. Utterly essential in every way.

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