The Guardian – 8th March 2012
He knows it’s over, still he clings – Danny Coughlan doesn’t know where else he can go, except deep into widescreen melancholy
The lineup: Danny Coughlan (vocals, guitar).
The background: Danny Coughlan as Crybaby is an astonishingly fully formed version of the artist he obviously set out to be. He is so successful at being the heartbroken crooner of his childhood dreams, the one in thrall to the music of the era between the twin reigns of Elvis and the Beatles, to the twisted productions of Phil Spector and Joe Meek, to early soul, the stoic balladry of Roy Orbison and the notion of doomed romance, that it almost obviates comment, let alone critique. He is so precisely the sum of his obsessions we are almost rendered speechless. Almost, but not quite.
Of course, Richard Hawley and Morrissey have covered this territory before. In fact, Coughlan’s voice is uncannily Hawleyish while his songs, all superbly orchestrated and slow, evoke a world in which the Smiths only wrote sepulchral ballads, not jaunty ones about vicars in tutus. Many of them recall Strangeways-era Smiths, and songs such as I Won’t Share You, but that’s about the only “modern” (ie non-60s) reference that springs to mind listening to Crybaby’s eponymous debut album, apart from Hawley, but – like Coughlan – he’s so steeped in his influences and mired in the past it barely makes sense to consider him a contemporary act at all.
Produced by Chris Hughes – the Merrick in Adam Ant’s immortal “Marco, Merrick, Terry-Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours tru-lee” – Crybaby is, as Coughlan puts it, “a tribute, a love letter” to his favourite old records, “the sort that were full of songs that had insights into love and life and romance, but never in a chocolate-box way”, records furthermore that addressed his favourite topics: “Love and pain … attraction, heartbreak, sorrow.” Coughlan uses a lot of words to express the rapture of sadness. His first single, for example, bears a typically windy title: I Cherish the Heartbreak More Than the Love That I Lost, a paraphrase of that old Woody Allen chestnut about unrequited love being the only love that lasts. Elsewhere, there are When the Lights Go Out, We’re Supposed to Be in Love and What Am I Supposed to Do Without You Now? You can imagine Coughlan making great play of the dearth today of wordsmiths and lovers of language, compared to the last golden age of literate verbosity when the likes of Morrissey – and Elvis Costello, and Paddy McAloon, and Martin Fry – used whole libraries of clever similes and metaphors to describe the ups and downs of love. He might be right to do so.
If the imagery and the arrangements – all of it, really – are filched, it’s still entertaining, and occasionally moving as hell, even if you feel as though your emotions are being piqued by the ersatz, replicas of beauty. These are bona fide neo-classics, classy and classically structured – Coughlan has studied well, right down to the swooning vocal delivery and elisions of vowels, which are pure Moz. Armies of Darkness recalls Otis at his most blue. This Time It’s Over conflates the work of his two idols – It’s Over and I Know It’s Over – so faithfully you feel like shouting, Stop him if you think you’ve heard this one before! Shame and Twist of The Knife both feature Be My Baby drums and you fear he’s running out of ideas, but the penultimate pair, Veils and A Misery of Love, are so successfully forlorn in that Moz-does-Roy way, you can only applaud his mastery and, well, gall.
The buzz: “An entirely appropriate pseudonym for this creator of beautifully miserable tunes” – Amazing Blog.
The truth: Meet Boy Orbison.
Most likely to: Want the one he can’t have.
Least likely to: Do a cover of Ant Rap.
What to buy: Crybaby is released on 9 April by Helium, preceded by the single I Cherish the Heartbreak More Than the Love That I Lost, out now.
File next to: Morrissey, Richard Hawley, Roy Orbison, Joe Meek.
– Paul Lester
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