Former Blur guitarist continues to innovate on his thrilling eighth solo release.
Camilla Pia 2012
He may be best known for years of exemplary service to Britpop, but it’s Graham Coxon’s art-rock solo efforts that find him pushing himself in the most interesting directions. And A+E is by far his finest work to date; a brilliantly inventive and majestically sprawling album which sees the multi-skilled musician take on a wry, Philip Larkin-esque role of the eccentric outsider, casting a cheeky eye over a very British kind of hedonism.
Meet+Drink+Pollinate is a reflection on the humdrum habit of weekend boozing; the distorted vocal repetition, dirge-y guttural riffs and motorik beat reflecting the rather depressing drink, shag, sleep and repeat pattern that it’s almost heresy to question. If anything says Modern Life Is Rubbish it’s this. Running for Your Life is an anti-anthem for anyone that’s ever been lambasted for looking a bit freaky – "We don’t like your haircut or your attitude," he sings, aping his laddish tormentors, over punky, vicious guitars – and on What’ll It Take, the record’s most pop moment, skittering electronics dance around rumbling drums and chirruping feedback as Coxon asks, "What’ll it take to make you people dance?" before closing the track screeching, "What’s wrong with me?" All three tracks differ wildly in tone but all display a charmingly playful side to his oddball outlook on life.
This subtle wit is a theme throughout, with Coxon even making a sly dig at his younger self’s inability to enjoy Blur’s success on clattering opener Advice: "I’d write a new song when I was touring, man it was no fun, totally boring," he sings as the scratchy track judders and builds to a frantic close. And musically A+E is the most sonically experimental and diverse record of the guitarist’s career. He plays all of the instruments, including a mean blustering sax, and dabbles in krautrock (the thrum, throb and growl of City Hall), thrash pop (Seven Naked Valleys’ rhythmic attack), psychedelia (during the spiralling wig out of Bah Singer) and sweet acoustic ballads (Ooh, Yeh Yeh) – which, of course, he can’t help but heavily layer with strange bits and discordant squall, like a lost song from 13.
Now there’s nothing sweeter for a Blur fan than seeing Graham Coxon reunited with Damon Albarn, and together they make a pretty unbeatable musical pairing. But does he need his best buddy and former bandmate to deliver spectacularly creative pop? Absolutely not.