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  • Matt Codd

Richard Hawley: In This City They Call You Love Review - Cinematic, Emotive And Oh So Beautiful



As we're all aware, Sheffield is in somewhat of a period of regeneration. Heart Of The City, Cambridge Street Collective and the excavation of the Castle will all be shaping the makeup of our great city for years to come. It remains to be seen how these ongoing attempts to put the city back on the map succeed.


Perhaps nobody has done more to re-establish the Steel City at the forefront of public consciousness in recent times though than Richard Hawley. The hit musical Standing At The Sky's Edge, featuring a back-catalogue of Hawley's greatest work to date has become an unbridled success winning Olivier Awards and since its move to the West End has firmly put Sheffield back towards the pinnacle of the UK's cultural heart. Riding this wave, in 2023 Hawley also released a Best Of collection titled Now Then to much acclaim.


Now the troubadour returns with his latest work, In This City They Call You Love. The album's artwork prominently features Moore Street Substation, an icon of the Sheffield skyline but a construct that will most likely mean nothing to those outside of the city. But to us it is a piece of architecture that encapsualtes our city perfectly. It's towering, brutal and steeped in mystery. The fact that just over the road sits a mural to Richard Hawley makes it all the more special. Before entering the soundscape, the artwork has already set the tone.


Photography by Dean Chalkley

The album opens with its lead single 'Two For His Heels'. As mentioned in our review of the track it is a sparse, atmospheric and cinematic song about a deal that goes wrong. It's a perfect album opener, introducing the work in a harsh way but setting a tone of unease and wariness that crops up again and again. It's the cinema and storytelling where Hawley shines brightest as always, both on this tune and throughout the album. From this we are yanked from the ominous mood to an all-out groove in 'Have Love'. The darkness lingers thanks to Hawley's vocals but it feels a lot less overtly menacing and gives room for a lighter, airier guitar riff to take over.


Hawley often cuts the lonely figure with a guitar on much of his work, whether that's the songs he pens or the album covers he adorns. But that is not always the case here. Third track 'Prism In Jeans' is full in it's orchestrations, it's possibly the most quintessential Hawley song on the album and reminds you of the arrangements that can be heard in the Gillian Lynne Theatre until August. In This City is able to manage the tough transition from the cinematic to the tender ballad seamlessly as 'Prism In Jeans' flows fantastically in to my personal standout 'Heavy Rain'.


The second single from the album 'Heavy Rain' follows as a ballad of the highest proportions, with an opening line that sounds ridiculous when written out in all honesty; "In my dreams I tell you that I always dream about you in my dreams", but it sparks an inexplicable sense of longing and mourning and, above all, relatability in the listener. Few artists today can conjure emotions and images through their lyrics like Hawley does again and again on this album. This is truly at its most potent on this track and the lyricism marries beautifully with a stirring and bittersweet melody that naturally ebbs and flows and fills the heart with an irrepressible feeling of love because, as Hawley croons, "Even at the ending of the world, you know I'm always thinking of you girl, and all this heavy rain".


Photography by Dean Chalkley

'People' is his ultimate love letter to Sheffield and the people within that continue to inspire so much of his work. It is also the track that gives the album it's title. It's the most minimal track of the 12 here, in heavy contrast to the loud city we know, with Hawley's voice supported by a single acoustic guitar and kick drum, putting the lyrics front and centre and rightfully so. The song tells the story of the city beautifully, the pain and struggles it has faced and continues to face, the fact that it's not always the nicest place in the world, but crucially, the ability of its citizens to face up to those challenges and rise above. It's a song that only Richard Hawley could write really.


'Deep Space' is as close as Hawley gets to some classic Rock N Roll on the record, apt as he is set to headline Rock N Roll Circus in the city this summer. The tune is driving and indulgent and by far the closest he gets to the edgy vibe of a previous album like Standing At The Sky's Edge. It captures the feeling of needing to escape perfectly, whether that's into the eponymous "Deep Space", or just out of where you are or even out of your own head. Hawley recognises the world is a mad place and sometimes, we all need that space.


In contrast, 'Deep Waters' is a folksy, Americana-style track carried by Hawley's vocals and some incredible gospel backing vocals. 'I'll Never Get Over You' builds on this again with what is possible Hawley's best vocal work on the record as he powerfully conjures feelings of loss and heartbreak over a light and tender arrangement.


Another personal standout comes in the form of 'Do I Really Need To Know'. It's a song about a lover's jealousy in spite of their attempts to quash the feeling. It's the instrumentation that shines brightest thanks to a modern, nova bossa samba-like beat beneath the vocals, which are enhanced by Hawley's good friend Jarvis Cocker on backing vocals. It's quintessential easy listening, groovy and soulful.



To close the LP, Hawley presents opportunities for reflection on 'When The Lights Go Out' and 'Tis Night'. Both tracks are quite aptly named for album closers, symbolising the transition to the end of day, and the end of the album. 'When The Lights Go Out' is soft and warm to the ear, as though you're curled up under the covers. 'Tis Night' strips everything right back for a quietly stirring and emotive closer, a true end of evening song as the title suggests.


In its totality, In This City They Call You Love is a meandering piece of art that feels akin in beauty to traversing the Seven Hills themselves. There's moments of fullness, cinema and bliss that often find themselves contrasted with sparse openness, loneliness and reflection. The heart that sits at the centre of this record is joyous but tender and everpresent, as one expects from a songwriter of Hawley's talent and experience. Above all, the album is never lost, it always know which emotions it is evoking and which experiences it is calling on within the listener. Always clear in its direction and urging you to follow. In a time of so much darkness, it's a vital light to the lead the way, much like the album cover suggests.


In This City They Call You Love releases on 31st May 2024 via BMG. It is available for pre-order on CD and Vinyl from Richard Hawley's official store and all good records stores here. Tickets are still available for his upcoming UK tour here and, of course, his biggest hometown show to date at Rock N Roll Circus here.

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