On previous solo outings, Graham Coxon's penchant for lo-fi American indie-rock and a rather solipsistic, self-pitying worldview has somewhat hobbled his ability to develop significantly as an artist.
Compared to the rampant diversity displayed by his old band's singer, Coxon's post-Blur output seemed to constitute a series of underlinings of the same basic point.
What a welcome relief, then, to encounter the changed priorities of The Spinning Top, on which Coxon finally manages to push beyond his former limitations, ironically by delving back into the tangled underbrush of British folk music, particularly as it was re-imagined during the inventive heyday of the 60s folk boom. Not only does it more cleanly expose the breadth of his guitar skills, with ebullient fingerpicking allied to the kind of modal improvisatory approaches of Davy Graham, Bert Jansch et al; it also provides a more apt home for his vocals, their vulnerable, occasionally wavering tone.
Something of the ISB's exploratory musical spirit is also present here, in the way that Arabic and Eastern influences are blended into the native folk modes, whether as the odd, resonant bass-string drone accompanying Coxon's fingerpicking on "Look Into The Light"or the wispy Indian tones and birdsong of the lovely "In The Morning", an eight-minute celebration of bucolic perfection. Elsewhere, droning concertina heralds the chill of "November", "Sorrow's Army" is routed by frisky folk-blues stylings, and "Brave The Storm" is comforted by soft woodwind.
Which is not to suggest that the album is entirely "wooden" in tone; alongside the acoustic beds of several songs are bursts of electric guitar which test the "folk-rock" envelope, sometimes to destruction. The delicate acoustic guitar and glockenspiel shell of "If You Want Me", for instance, is cracked open by a flanged fuzz-guitar riff a minute or two into the song, and a woozy backdrop of guitar noise underscores the chorus of "Home", whose hearth-side manner provides folksy security at the album's core. Less appealing is "Caspian Sea", on which Coxon's hesitant voice and understated guitar are assailed by juddering waves of wah-wah guitar and the siren keening of Natasha Marsh.
The album, claims Coxon, tracks a man from birth to death, though that narrative is by no means necessary for its enjoyment. Instead, individual songs provide glimpses of discrete human conditions – the loneliness and self-denial of "Feel Alright", the desolate contentment of "Far From Everything", the sunny euphoria of "Perfect Love". Most pleasingly, this world seems so much bigger more fulfilling, than the world he once confined himself to.
Download this: "In The Morning", "Look Into The Light", "Home", "Brave The Storm", "Perfect Love"