15 Minutes With: Graham Coxon
Before this album I'd really steered clear of any straight talk regarding naughty stuff.
Say hello to Graham Coxon - indie enigma, reformed hedonist and guitar hero of every twenty-something who lived through the onanistic musical excesses of the Britpop era.
As the guitarist for Blur he was the inscrutable yin to Albarn's garrulous, mockney yang; a man who let his guitar do the talking whilst his band mate indulged himself in the narcissistic conceits of the media circus.
Despite Blur's huge success, Coxon's own series of lo-fi, melancholy solo albums pointed towards his unhappiness with the band's direction during their later years, with the guitarist eventually leaving the group in late 2002. Having shaken off the demons of alcoholism and depression, 2004 saw Coxon unleash 'Happiness in Magazines', a record filled with propulsive, energised power-pop. The album was seen by many as a bid to reclaim the popular recognition he had enjoyed with his former band, but in conversation with The Skinny, Coxon reveals that he is loathe to view his music in such black and white commercial terms:
"For me there's no difference between my old stuff and the new stuff. I played the game a little bit with the last album and now everyone thinks that's what I want to do all the time - release singles and release videos - that this is how I want to carry on my life! It's weird." For the softly spoken and socially awkward Coxon, music has always been an end in and of itself. "I wouldn't go into the studio unless I really thought I had some good stuff" he says. "I do believe that some people out there will enjoy it, but I don't really mind how many people that is."
Thankfully, 'Happiness in Magazines' brought Coxon's solo work to a much wider audience, and also spawned the obscenely catchy hit single Freakin' Out; a song that has probably received more rotation at indie nights up and down the country than anything by his former band. Now, on the eve of the release of his fifth album, 'Love Travels at Illegal Speeds', the expectation is for Coxon to raise the bar even higher: "Yeah, I am feeling the pressure a bit now, but then I criticise and pressure myself more than anybody else. When I write a song I really like, I think 'Gosh, I might never write a song that's as nice as that again'."
The Coxon faithful needn't fret however, as 'Love Travels…' sees Coxon eclipsing his former achievements with a cocksure swagger that feels quite effortless. Exploring "the fine line between love and hate," this is a collection which finds Coxon at his most brazen: "I ended up being quite indiscreet on some songs - presenting myself as more of a lustful bloke. Before that I'd really steered clear of any straight talk regarding naughty stuff."
Sure enough, the album plays out like an endorphin-soaked rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of infatuation, rejection, love and lust. Despite Coxon's status as the elder statesman of indie, the album contains a litany of vociferous, punk-inspired riffs and spirited, gamesome lyrics of the type that will shame many of the young pretenders to his throne. Don't Let Your Man Know is the kind of ballsy, euphoric anthem that could single-handedly turn pop-punk into a credible genre, whilst What's He Got is a playful, witty ode to unrequited love that showcases Coxon's often overlooked sense of humour. "Sometimes it's best to make light of a seriously depressing situation" he comments, wryly.
Despite the bombast of tracks such as these, the album also contains a clutch of remarkable slower-paced numbers which make it explicitly clear that Coxon doesn't need to rely on volume and bluster to breathe new life into the hoary, cliche-sodden subjects of love and heartbreak. See a Better Day is perhaps the most affecting song on this album; a wonderful, soulful meditation that shimmers with bluesy melodic flourishes and some of the most expressive vocals that Coxon has ever committed to tape. "Yeah, when I demoed that song at home I listened to it a lot and really thought it might have been the best thing I'd written," he says, without a hint of braggadocio.
Clearly Coxon's own particular creative muse is burning more brightly than ever: "the thing is that either way, you're doomed - if you fall in love or even if you don't. Basically it all ends in pain." Who'd have thunk it? Misery rocks.
The album 'Love Travels at Illegal Speeds' is released on March 13.
Graham Coxon plays Glasgow Garage on March 22 and Edinburgh Liquid Room on March 23.