Wednesday 12 March 2014

Tom Hickox - War, Peace and Diplomacy

Album review by

There are many things that set north London singer-songwriter Tom Hickox apart from most musicians you will be familiar with today. Be it his sense of style - the three-piece suits that demand grandeur and respect for a time long since passed; the serious and brooding air that accompanies Tom throughout his live performances; or perhaps it's the way Tom's nine-track debut album 'War, Peace and Diplomacy' is far more than wonderful compositions. It is people and places and personalities. It is images and feelings and emotions. It is magnificent. Album opener 'The Angel of the North' was released online as a free download last year but has been remastered for the album with added harmonium. Mournful organ chords soar and swoop alongside melancholy strings and fragile percussion as Tom's handsome, nuanced vocals evoke the poetic imagery hidden within his lyrics. Despite displaying a certain sense of foreboding, the track also portrays a sense of freedom and flight. We reach the same dizzying heights as the eagle that flies and the albatross that glides in the chorus.

'Pretty Pride of Russia' has also been up on the internet for a while and tells the tale of a wide-eyed young woman and her dream of finding riches and respect in London. Warning bells start to ring when Tom croons “A man most eager to help. He said he will find me a job; and a luxury flat. With other girls like me”. The track features sprightly piano, swelling strings full of longing, changes of tempo and dreamy, sparkly stars-in-your-eyes percussion that reflect the innocence and naivety of the song's heroine (or, is it anti-heroine, we wonder?). 'Out of the Warzone' has a wonderful country and western/blues feel, and rumour has it Richard Hawley is behind the wonderful slide guitar solo. There is a sense of release as Tom croons “my soul is floating away”. Open to interpretation, we feel this song depicts death in a very uplifting way. 'Your Baby Was Asleep' comes across as a grotesque lullaby. Tom's vocals are hushed and slightly sinister. The instrumentation is bleak and demanding. This is more of a fairy tale film score moment. 'White Roses Red' is the strongest track on the album and has a very Asian feel to it, not only because of very good use of the sitar. Urgent, powerful and emotive, the track is immediate and unnerving. As Tom bellows “You will open the lilies on your bed. Blood colour, white roses red. All my love left unsaid.” We can’t help but wonder in morbid fascination if the person is mourning their love on their deathbed.

'Let Me Be Your Love' is an honest and all-consuming love song. Piano-led with beautiful moments of brass and strings, it feels like the clock is ticking and time is running out as Tom croons, “Let us share a tombstone in a graveyard by the sea. Then let us hear the crashing waves in immortality. Let me be your lover. Let me be your friend. Let me be beside you whenever it’s the end”. Then there's the final three: 'A Normal Boy' which journeys through the eyes of a normal middle-classed boy's transition into embracing Allah and Jihadism. Fast-paced and powerful, the track builds to a fiery, breathtaking climax; 'The Lisbon Maru' embraces the country feel again, and is inspired by the real-life sinking of a Japanese freighter of that name. The album fades out with 'Goodnight', a gloomy, anthemic, victorious ending to a truly majestic album. Through 'War, Peace and Diplomacy', Tom Hickox has paved his own unique way of musical expression which has a solid place in 21st century music whilst still giving a nods of familiarity towards the likes of Scott Walker, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. This album is a success.

Tom Hickox's website

Buy the album

Catch him live:

Tues, March 25, Union Chapel, London, United Kingdom

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