30 plus years and now 10 albums on his own, Hugh Cornwell’s name will forever be dog-tagged to The Stranglers – ostensibly a punk rock band, their mainstream appeal outscored the Pistols, Clash and Damned alike and too outspoken and somewhat older, they were never truly invited to the party. Likewise, he’s not always been keen to embrace his past, forging a more singular troubadour route since, and yet the irony is not lost for it brings him all that closer to the work of Richard Thompson, with whom he played during his school days.
Astute from day one, time hasn’t necessarily evidently made him wiser, but this album does show him reflecting on assorted times gone by and choices made or forced by circumstances. Always a witty wordsmith, there’s a somewhat savoir faire attitude present here across the ten tracks offered on Moments Of Madness – to this end, while offering observations on surviving the current doom and gloom of life on planet Earth, we’ve gone beyond the rage of ‘Something Better Change’ and someone better come up with a better plan; that or just enjoy the moments you can.
In that vein, it’s a stripped down, intimate rather than lo-fi affair, and suits the material proffered. Self-produced with Cornwell playing all the instruments himself he mixes genres effectively enough along the way. The voice remains unmistakably his, but it’s obviously aged and while not as strong, the sighing weary tones enunciated fit the character of the songs.
Our point of entry, for those among us not acolytes, begins with pithy intonation by way of ‘Coming Out Of The Wilderness’. Unrepentant twanging vintage electric guitar sounds shuffle steadily wherein Duane Eddy meets Lou Reed, as he declares time hasn’t withered his spirit with the lines: “I’m coming out of the wilderness, learnt how to throw a bowie knife. Ran into fair-haired maiden’s out there but didn’t take no wife.” And so we listen, this balance of metered rhythm disturbed but briefly by a heavily distorted soling guitar.
Showing little inclination to pick up the pace, ‘Red Rose’ is some early sixties ballad waiting for the downers to kick in, like something Syd Barrett might’ve written after a night-out with a time-travelling Morrissey, then got Joe Meek to produce it the following day before the milkman arrived. It’s a song about the current preoccupation for tattoos, a body fashion item that’s surprisingly outlasted fake orange tans by a long shot.
I Wannahideinsideya’ carries that early-sixties spirit, moving sprightly and cheekily, a kind of comedy daddy rock number for those on the make attending recently divorced gatherings. ‘Looking For You’ follows directly, and its third person narrative implies success was had at said gathering, though lines like: “As years go by and friends, they die they leave me living slow,” infers either death waits in a doorstep wearing a faux mink coat, or that as we age; we take our pleasures when, where and with whatever energy we’ve got left. This one, sounds very much like The Doors, from Cornwell’s deep bell-toned vocal delivery to the arpeggio-picked guitar and a bass line taking the role of organ. It also features a lively guitar solo that brightens proceeding.
The pace quickens again, sharp chords slicing through as backing vocals trickle through, on ‘When I Was A Young Man’, wherein Cornwell ticks the box on his early life with little sign of repentance in sight. ‘Moments Of Madness’ itself appears to rework Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’ signature line at times through this one, but it’s predominantly a subtle reggae shrug and shimmer of a number, telling us the party’s not over until we drop down dead; oh, and the brief blast of harmonica over some dubstep was wackily inspired.
Love can hit you out of the blue, no matter what your age it seems as darker edged twanging guitars prowl and pace through ‘Beware Of The Doll’. Digging in deeper, harder and with a message to tell, ecology’s box gets ticked on ‘Too Much Trash’, somehow sensually delivered, while sometime black comedic lyrics still strike home. Bo Diddley meets Mexican mariachi on ‘Lasagna’, wherein he relates amusingly a song about some Italian friends.
Moments of Madness waves goodbye with ‘Heartbreak At Seven’. It strides into town like a cowboy ready to shoot anyone wearing a black or white hat. The bass guitar is firm and resilient throughout, while guitars rock up heavy, get juicy in that sixties vein he’s been toying with throughout the record, and mix it with some fuzz/wah pedalling just to keep you on your toes. Lyrically, this one’s a mini-movie set to music.
Singer/songwriter is the most apt work description to be listed on Hugh Cornwell’s passport. With little sign of checking out soon, this is a collection of songs observed wryly, in disgust, with frustrated lust, deep concern and just for belly-laughs too. Songs for the everyman of a certain mature vintage.
- Coming Out Of The Wilderness
- Red Rose
- I Wannahideinsideya
- Looking For You
- When I Was A Young Man
- Moments Of Madness
- Beware Of The Doll
- Too Much Trash
- Heartbreak At Seven