October 23, 2022

Widely regarded as the poet laureate of the punk era (from his early career fronting the Stranglers to his transition as a solo artist), Hugh Cornwell has built a substantial and singular body of impressive solo albums. His tenth solo opus, Moments of Madness, continues his illustrious output by experimenting with musical genres as his enviable reputation as a wordsmith resounds across this album’s songs.

When future historians of music draw up a list of the movers and shakers who changed the modern musical landscape, Hugh Cornwell’s name should be prominent amongst them. As a pioneering musician, songwriter, and performer his pervasive influence persists in the record collections of music aficionados, across this spinning globe’s radio waves, and on stages around the world. Tell you what, though, I bet you didn’t know that Hugh was at school with another celebrated musician Richard Thompson before achieving a degree in biochemistry; and what’s more his first solo gigs were in restaurants owned by celebrated TV chef Keith Floyd – who later used The Strangler’s “Peaches” music on his food programmes!

Hugh

Hugh was the frontman and main song-writer for the Stranglers across their ten albums, from their 1977 classic punk debut Rattus Norvegicus, through follow up albums No More Heroes, Black and White, The Raven and The Gospel According to the MenInBlack (which Hugh cites as his favourite Stranglers album). After their final album as a band, 10, Hugh embarked on his own career, although his first adventure was a collaboration with Captain Beefheart drummer Robert Williams on 1979’s Nosferatu. It’s a seminal album that still gathers praise for its punk /gothic experimentalism. His first “true” solo release Wolf found favour in the US, especially in the Alternative charts, as do all of Hugh’s solo albums. In 2016 Hugh released This Time It’s Personal in collaboration with punk poet John Cooper Clarke – a quirky selection of takes on songs that shaped their ‘Yoof’! Critics declared it a masterpiece and again when Hugh released his ninth solo creation Monster in 2018.

Self-produced, and playing all of the instruments himself, Moments of Madness finds Hugh flexing his musical muscles with a stripped down, offbeat, reverberating sixties vibe ringing with the seductive melodies and lyrically distinctive perceptions that are stamped with Hugh’s trademark imagination. Vocally and lyrically this could well be a career-best, with Hugh demonstrating his consummate storytelling skills, offering his own inimitable observations on the art of survival in these challenging and turbulent times.

The Man, performing live

The opener and first single Coming Out of the Wilderness surfs an edgy and explosive sixties sound with a heavy Duane Eddy guitar twang, as Hugh declares “I’m coming out of the wilderness, learnt how to throw a bowie knife. Ran into fair-haired maidens out there but didn’t take no wife.” There’s a hint of Lou Reed, a touch of The Doors and Hugh acknowledges that he likes to imagine he’s a cook when making records, mixing sounds and styles in a musical stew! Red Rose is next, a nicely crisp, sparse arrangement, the lyrics exploring the bewildering trend for tattoos. IWannaHideInsideAya then reveals a quite surreal carousel of psychedelic references in a 60’s stew of musical madness, echoing down the years as Cornwell delivers his unique humour in the pithy plea for a ‘safe port in a storm’ close relationship.

Looking for You is so Jim Morrison inspired it’s spooky! Add a sparse, ethereal arrangement and you have a genuinely haunting track! It’s followed by the semi-autobiographical and upbeat When I Was a Young Man, a fistful of insightful, wistful emotions that reminds me strongly of Elvis Costello. “As years go by and friends, they die they leave me living slow,” Hugh sombrely sings as he reflects upon his family and friends. Cheerful stuff!

Moments of Madness is the title song and major opus of the album, multi-layered with serious messages, acute analysis, and witty observations in fun-filled lyrical and musical eccentricity. Very redolent of The Clash doing reggae, you have to remind yourself it’s Hugh playing all the instruments and clearly having great fun, especially on the loping bassline! The lyrics absolutely nail the pulse of our times. “Looking like the fog’s gonna finally clear. Switch on all the lights at the end of the pier. Tidy up your makeup and shampoo your hair. Have a little party but nobody’s there.”

We’re then carried back to the Duane Eddy vibe with Hugh’s cautionary tale about matters of the heart in his inimitable coded style on Beware of the Doll, you think you’re listening to love, you’re sinking from a foot above” – before his ecological chunter on Too Much Trash, decrying the slobbish, thoughtless actions of the devil-may-care consumer society, with too many people needlessly dropping litter everywhere. On Lasagna, Hugh tells the story about his Italian friends who live in Mexico and make the best lasagne he has ever tasted. As always, Cornwell communicates with a biting humour in all the right places, with a delightfully retro arrangement. The album closes with Heartbreak at Seven, which was actually the first song recorded for this selection. It’s a personal reflection, an initially slow, lizard-lounge type of blues number, a slow-burning voice-over recounting the tale with added lovely retro guitar work.

The upcoming tour

A high watermark and a modern-day masterpiece, Moments of Madness is being tipped as the most significant album of Hugh’s illustrious career. It’s an album of acute, pithy, and witty observations and social commentary across ten singular songs. He’s touring extensively across the UK in November and December, well worth catching!

One of the singles!