Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top
Miss Fliss 18/05/2009
Graham Coxon is advancing in age with grace and confidence. It's easy to forget that he kick-started his solo career more than a decade ago with awkward, angular guitar blast-offs, expressing all the joy he found in ear-bashing discord which was quelled or pop-coated in Blur. There were also the shy acoustic vignettes, delivered with almost painful self-consciousness. The Graham Coxon of The Spinning Top sounds fully-fledged and - dare I say that word - mature. He got his brash metal skits about skateboarders out of his system long ago, and segueing into noise squall, fast-with-panic, guitars and anxious shouty vocals is a trick he might look over his shoulder at with embarrassment or at least with a sense of having progressed from such a manner. It's been a steady, sure build to where we are now. We've always been aware of his heroes Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, his mate Billy Childish, and old Delta blues stuff. They're as present as ever, but Graham's got those emulations developed a lot closer, and is calmer yet confident with it.
It cannot go unnoticed that opener Look into the Light bears a striking resemblance to the pretty acoustic whirl of Nick Drake's Time Has Told Me, with hints of Which Will interspersed. it's not just in sound, there's a cadence where Coxon's voice rises and falls into similar vocal play as Drake did with Which Will. Surely no coincidence, and it works in its own way, but I cannot stop being haunted by the Drake songs all the way through this opening track. Plenty of slide guitar and old country vocals in unnatural American accent on many other tracks here and the feel that Graham Coxon wants to be sat on a porch out in Mississippi, though, and the Drake influence is soon forgotten. The former style is most at bay for Sorrow's Army which has Graham in earnest, world-weary artist mode, and with fake American accent. I'm not fond of this mode.
There are plenty of the shy, pretty acoustic melodic-heavy little ditties that Graham has become expert at and renowned for (and for what I cherish in him). If You Want Me twinkles with xylophone and is otherwise in bare acoustic Coxon style and quietly endearing ('It's all so serious / I'm half delirious / [crucial pause] when you call my name') before it breaks into melodica and a quick blast of the old trademark Blur guitar, but not too heavy. There's a nursery rhyme sweetness and innocence to Perfect Love with its child-like Syd Barrett and Robert Wyatt recalling lyric style: Out of the tree / and into the sea / swam my perfect love for me'... 'I met you / and you met me / we stand in perfect harmony.')Maybe he's thinking of his kid, Pepper, and is wanting to make cute fun songs for her. There's a nice innocence to them, certainly.
Brave the Storm is a pleasant, winding, gliding song, resplendent with flute, but it's from hereon in that things get a bit weird. After this, it's Dead Bees, which has a hint of melody in it from Late in the Day by Supergrass, and it falls quite flat, to my ears. Some of Graham's cheeky waywardness of yore rears its head with springy wonky noises and bashed guitars arriving with aplomb, but it jars and grates in most places, if you ask me.
My main contention is that at 15 tracks and nigh on 70 minutes, The Spinning Top is just too staggered out and long, and has the sense of quantity rather than selected quality. In this time, Graham really mixes things up, genre-wise - one minute we're in 1920s blues America, the next it's the wistful, inward, gentle folk he has honed so well, there's dashes of French accordian dominated sadness, there's even a really lovely slowed right down ballad with guitars so MOR widdly and mature, and instrumentation so lengthy, that it's unlike anything Graham has ever done - November could be his very own Albatross! There is also the heartfelt good of Home, which is a rare true high point, strident with simple melody, those high pitched, desperately stretching Graham vocals, and what he does best - autobiographically honest lyrics: 'Home / sanctuary / Home / back to me / It's so hard to be / away', he pines, and you can tell he means it.
The dips in this album are forgiven when they lift into their highs. The shining bright positivity of Feel Alright, for example, saves things towards the album's end and is quintessential Coxon, and the fresh feel of closer November leaves me with a sweeter taste in my mouth. But overall, I can't help feel there are far too many moments spent muttering and dithering, or things sounding plain off key and mixing up too many styles without cohesion. If Graham could just decide on a singing accent and stick to it, if he could hone in on his skills in melody and acoustic work and make it really shine, if he could be a bit less wildly genre-hopping, we'd be up and away. Perhaps it's his imperfections and indecision that make his music what it is, but I can't forgive meandering and the dullness that can come with it. I'd like to say I'm charmed by this record, but I'd have to edit a good half a dozen or so songs out for that to happen.