So, The End of the F***ing World is back for a second series, and much more importantly, Graham Coxon is back with a second soundtrack. I reviewed the first one in February 2018 and it ended up being one my favourite records of the year. So I was really excited about this. Would it be as good? Would it be as innovative and atmospheric? Well, quite simply, it is. It’s absolutely magnificent.
Never in history, as far as I can tell, has the soundtrack format seemingly better matched the talents of a rock musician. Freed from the constraints of trying to create something that sounds commercially consistent or coherent, Coxon is once again able to draw on pretty much any influence he wants and create of it something genuinely engaging and brilliant. Like the first soundtrack, there is a mix here of real songs and incidental, score music (although even the latter are all guitar based and usually spiky and atonal). There are some of the same influences at play – Ennio Morricone, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie – and a ton of new ones too which sweep liberally across the expanse of music history, from Burt Bacharach to Sex Pistols via ’50’s rock and roll and ’90’s grunge. There is, quite literally, a little bit of something for everyone. And, if you’re like me and just love great music from any rock or classic genre and any era, there’s a lot, of everything.
I could go on forever when I get into this kind of mode, so I’ve just picked out a few songs to talk about. The first is ‘Madder Than Me’ which starts with a yowl and then progresses into a Buzzcock’s style riff. It all sounds barely coherent, like the song’s structure is just about being held together by bits of string. And then Coxon lays a nice harmony over it which brings to mind The Who. It’s pretty chaotic, it’s quite messy, it’s kind of short. But it’s also brilliant. It’s far from slick, but what it definitely is is innovative and different. I like, no I LOVE innovative and different.
‘Beautiful Bad’ is a bit more structured, and reminds me a little of the song ‘Bus Stop’ from volume one. As with that one, this is the one song on the record that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Blur album. There’s a metronomic bassline (as there is on ‘Girls and Boys’) and the keyboard sound is very similar to that used on ‘Coffee and TV’. But this is The End of the F***ing World era Coxon so of course he drowns it all in clashing spaghetti western guitars.
‘A Better Beginning’ draws more on the ’60’s and has a definite Scott Walker feel to it. Epic sounding, dramatic, melodic. There are military drum rolls, there’s an orchestra, and there are soaring choruses. But running through it all is that twangy western guitar again which gives it a bit of an edge. It sounds simultaneously like a homage to classic pop and For a Few Dollars More.
And then there’s ‘Down to the Sea’, the album opener, which sounds like a take on the early songs of Roy Orbison or The Dreamairs (specifically their song ‘Dream Angel’) but reimagined by Nick Cave. It’s lazy and languid, in equal parts dreamy and somewhat spooky. Like the scene in a horror movie where a nice, innocent ’50’s pop song is heard playing from a deserted cabin in the woods at night, a deserted cabin with no occupant, no record player and no electricity supply.
Elsewhere Coxon seems to be channeling Dylan, George Harrison, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Pixies, Sacha Distel. I mean, you could look at all of that and think, blimey, what a mess. But that’s the thing: this is a soundtrack. He seems to have approached both this and the last record with the idea that he could and should make it sound like the producers have cobbled together music from a whole host of different artists. Which is what they usually do. But at the same time, he can do that whilst running a strong golden thread of his own identity throughout the whole thing. These are songs and score pieces written to accompany cinematic scenes, so Coxon has focused on that rather than the usual considerations of consistency and running order that come into play when someone is recording a typical album. Personally, I think his music is all the better for it. It seems to play to his strengths as an innovator. It lets him off the leash and what he is able to produce when off that leash is nothing short of incredible.
Yeah, this is a great record. A superb record. Possibly even better than the last one. I have another contender for album of the year, from the same artist for the second year in a row.
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