A good way to determine if you’d enjoy Richard Hawley‘s Truelove’s Gutter, the former Pulp guitarist’s fifth solo release, is to recall the “candy colored clown” scene from Blue Velvet. In it, Frank Booth visits his crime partner, the suave dandy and heavily made-up Ben. After getting down to business, Frank insists that Ben lip-synchs Roy Orbison‘s “In Dreams” in a form of celebration. The emotional swell of the performance causes Frank to feel vulnerable, to which he immediately stops the music and demands “Let’s hit the fucking road!”
If you feel moved by the haunting atmosphere of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and take comfort in reflective crooning that owes an obvious debt to mid-twentieth century pop songs, then you will be drawn to Truelove’s Gutter.
The rest of you, however, may feel bogged down by the album’s unrelenting snails pace; it is deliberate and admirably detailed, but it is also extremely susceptible to the listener’s overall mood. This is not the album to play on Saturday night, Sunday morning, or when you’re on the outs with your old lady. Truelove’s Gutter is mope music to the highest degree, but it elevates pathos to near genius.
Hawley’s vocal talents are nowhere near the level of his obvious muse, Roy Orbison, but they in no way try to sound like them. Where Roy’s tenor was an instrument of unmatched beauty, Hawley utilizes a mellow baritone and it blankets the sparse arrangements with a mysterious fog.
In “Don’t Get Hung Up On Your Soul,” one of the album’s finest moments, Hawley competes with a musical saw. For “Remorse Code,” he weaves a two-chord pattern for over nine minutes with an echo-laded hollowbody accompaniment. By the time of the closer, “Don’t You Cry,” he brings in an array of exotic instruments to sustain the atmosphere for nearly eleven minutes.
During “For Your Lover Give Some Time,” Hawley presents a love song to his wife with such unchecked affection that it can be uncomfortable to witness. “Maybe I will drink a little less” he promises her, “Come home early and not complain about the day/And give you flowers from the graveyard, now and then.” These are words of devotion that most men would only say in private-if at all-and the fact that Hawley is secure enough to utter them on an album is strangely compelling.
Compelling and uneasy at times, just like Dean Stockwell’s performance as Ben in Blue Velvet. If you got through that scene and could handle the weight of its crumbling beauty, then Truelove’s Gutter is definitely worth seeking. If it made you feel at all uneasy, then Richard Hawley’s elegant homage to lush, retro pop vocalists will have you longing for a joyride.