Graham Coxon, formerly a member of Britpop harbinger Blur, has released his eighth solo studio album, “A+E.” Blur helped shape the direction and style of the music industry during the 1990s, and Coxon has been attempting to branch out from that niche ever since the release of his first solo album in 1998. Still, Britpop will always be in his blood.
“A+E” is the product of a Coxon unchanged since he started making music. While all the other members of Blur are teachers, cheese connoisseurs or extremely successful members of at least three high−grossing bands, Coxon has remained the politically minded guitar genius who just wants to sit in his house and make music. At a time when rumors are flying around wildly about whether or not Blur will record a new album together, and having just received the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the Brit Awards, Coxon is teasing Blur fans with a new solo album.
Coxon is undoubtedly a gifted songwriter and talented guitarist. Noel Gallagher of Oasis named him one of the best guitar players of the time and Fender even named a guitar after him — the Fender Graham Coxon Telecaster. With such a huge back catalogue, “A+E” is hardly the best representation of his skills, but it has its high points.
Album opener “Advice” is a frenzied, high−energy song that is hardly a good marker for what the rest of the album will sound like. Coxon sounds like he drank too much coffee and wrote this song and then gradually got more relaxed as he planned the rest of the album. “City Hall” is a far more synth−based homage to the mumbling melodies of The Smiths, even as it degenerates into frenetic guitar chords that seem to have no pattern.
“What’ll It Take,” the third song on “A+E,” is concerned mainly with “What’ll it take to make you people dance” and incidentally is a song made to awkwardly jive to. The self−conscious repetition of “I don’t really know what’s wrong with me” only adds to the monotonous and yet persistently catchy song. Coxon is essentially showcasing his skills on various instruments and with various sounds during the course of “A+E,” something that is more obvious on “Meet + Drink + Pollinate,” with its handclap−effect and on “Seven Naked Valleys,” with its saxophone.
“The Truth” is a somewhat ominous build−up of heavy bass chords and a smooth transition to the chorus, with the subtle addition of drums and another guitar. Coxon is a master at the mixture of tongue−in−cheek lyrics and playful singing. On “Running For Your Life” he sings, “We don’t like your accent or your Northampton shoes/ Get back down the M1 ’cos we don’t like you,” a reference to the division between North and South England — a concept that heavily permeated the Britpop war between Blur and Oasis in the first place.
The repetitive nature of Coxon’s songs differs depending on the harmonic changes — some become resolutely stuck in any listener’s head and suffer for it due to the unceasing onslaught of gritty guitar riffs such as “Bah Singer,” which is a messy attempt at a heavier sound. “Knife In The Cast” is a slow−burning combination of mutterings and thrumming chords that has a dangerous edge to it, although the song never quite explodes into the chorus it has potential for.
Coxon’s solo albums always have a slightly disordered sound to them, as if the one thing Coxon is missing when attempting to glue his album together is the cohesive element Damon Albarn always provided to Blur’s songs. Coxon has the ability to make innovative music, but lacks Albarn’s mainstream vision, which is what makes Blur’s music so accessible. Knowing Graham, however, this is entirely his intention. He cares not for the fickle whims of the audience but plays what he wants to and how he wants to, which is still a worthy feat.