Graham Coxon, the singer-songwriter who is best known as the bespectacled, speaker-shredding guitarist for Blur, has always been something of an underachiever. After spending more than 12 years in the shadow of foppish front-man Damon Albarn, Coxon left the suburban Britpop wonders in 2002 with four self-released solo albums under his belt in as many years. In contrast to the increasingly studied artiness of Blur's most recent releases, Coxon's prior records -- beginning with the flawless lo-fi (mostly) acoustic blast of 1998's The Sky Is Too High and leaving off with 2002's mature The Kiss of Morning -- were relatively traditional, soul-baring (if occasionally off-key) affairs that wore their power-pop, acid-folk, post-punk and American indie influences unabashedly on their sleeves while gazing bashfully at their shoes.
Now, flush with fatherhood and sobriety (he ended a near-legendary relationship with the bottle after a 2002 stint in Britain's Priory Clinic), Coxon has stepped up to the major-label plate with Happiness in Magazines. Like his earlier releases, Magazines is a set of consistently rewarding-to-fantastic songs recorded almost entirely by Coxon himself (on guitar, bass, drums, and vocals); unlike his other albums, Magazines is positively brimming with confidence and newfound sense of purpose.
The change is apparent from the opening chords of the first single, "Spectacular," which opens the album in Parklife-era style and finds Coxon audibly grunting with pleasure during the instrumental break. The rest of the record is also an absolute joy, dominated by hook-ridden, relatively upbeat songs like "Freakin' Out" (a sure follow-up single), "Bittersweet Bundle of Misery" (one of the sweetest backhanded love songs of recent memory) and "Hopeless Friend" (which borrows liberally from The Who's "A Quick One" to great effect). However, it's the orchestral grandeur of the album's centerpiece, "All Over Me," and its closer, "Ribbons & Leaves," that really hits home on repeated listenings. In fact, if you're anything like this reviewer, that latter song will haunt your head and heart so much after listening that you'll have no choice but to start playing the entire disc again when it finishes.
It's hard to imagine paying a higher compliment to any recording artist. But it's refreshing to pay that compliment to someone as unpretentious, unassuming and unwittingly great as Graham Coxon. Please buy this album.