Graham Coxon - Love Travels At Illegal Speeds

Emily Tartanella 24/03/2006

Rating: 4/5

Love, love, love. It's all you need. It'll keep us together. It's a battlefield. So we've been told over and over again. Love, that most obvious of musical themes, has inspired some truly great (the Buzzcocks) and truly terrible (there isn't time to name them all) endeavors. Be it the search for, achievement of, or inevitable loss of love, romantic and square is always the hip and aware way to write a song.
So when Graham Coxon announced he was planning a concept album about love, we couldn't help but raise our eyebrows. After all, this is the Graham Coxon, right? The Blur guitarist? Mr. Lo-Fi Indie, the one who quit Blur after the pressure of Damon's pop-prince antics? Doing a bunch of songs about the beating heart? Well, and we thought Think Tank was hilarious.
But then, Graham found happiness. Or, Happiness in Magazines, as the case may be. His sublimely poppy 2004 effort found the former lo-fi king hearkening back to his own Modern Life is Rubbish days, and sounding all the better for it. It would be all too easy now to say that Graham was following a straight line musically by taking on another “mainstream” album. But, like l'amour itself, Love Travels At Illegal Speeds isn't simple. It's a rich album, full of vicious songs that never lose a sense of passion and style.
From the staccato massacre that introduces “Standing On My Own Again,” Love Travels At Illegal Speeds is miles away from the sedate scratchiness of Sky is Too High, taking its cues not from obtuse indie-rock but ebullient power-pop in the vein of Weezer and The Jam.
But this isn't a “love” album in the sense of a-happy-couple-holding-hands-on-the-beach. Everyone hates that couple, anyway. Instead it's heartache and heartbreak that provide the fuel, and there's pure burning gasoline in vitriolic pieces like “I Don't Wanna Go Out” and “I Can't Look At Your Skin.” The Elvis Costello musicianship of “You Always Let Me Down” has a wicked snarl and a grudge to avenge. Graham may be older, but he's not wiser - and that's one of the album's biggest selling points. It's joyously youthful, relishing the mark of pride that comes with a brutal breakup. There's still hot blood in Coxon's veins, and the music mirrors it; the grotty standout “Gimme Some Love” has an authentic punk energy and a balls-to-the-wall spirit. Likewise, the exuberantly mod “What's He Got?” (“Got a brown leather jacket on ad bright blue jeans…Guess he's just better looking than me”) screams pure Townshend at his Quadrophenia zenith. The boy who wrote these tunes speaks for every 17-year-old snot with his heart broken and his thoughts wicked; he's both cuckolded lover and adulterous boy-toy.
Lyrically Coxon hits a bit of a stumbling block - there's a reason Damon wrote the songs oh-so-many years ago: Graham tends to rely on cheap sentimentality when all else fails; see lyrics like “What can I do? I'm so in love with you” and “Life ain't nothing but sorrow” for proof. And if this all sounds ripped straight from an adolescent livejournal entry, have no fear - when there's music this soaring, this dynamic, this powerful, sometimes you'll forgive a lyrical indiscretion here and then. Besides, to decry lyrical simplicity is to miss an important point of this album: love sucks, and it's okay to bitch about that. Coxon was never Morrissey and he never pretended to be, instead his goal is to go right for that unnamed muscle that makes you move like a moron.
And if required “mature” numbers like “Flights In the Sea” (what the hell is a flute doing there?) and “Don't Believe Anything I Say” are getting you down, just go back to “You & I” and bang your bloody head.
Blur recently announced their plans for a “stupid punk album.” As usual, Graham was one step ahead.