“On March the twenty-third, she said something so absurd, she said: you love to be in love but you never really love.” So Darren Hayman sang as lead singer of Hefner a little over ten years ago on their seminal album We Love The City. Hayman – or at least his persona on his early records – is a devotee to the idea of love. He’s in love with the city, maybe, but all he has for anyone else is young lust.
It’s with some audacity, then, that in 2011 Hayman releases The Ship’s Piano. It’s unashamedly an album of love songs and, what’s more surprising, an album of maturity, an album with the persona of someone that the Darren Hayman of Hefner probably never thought he’d become: an adult. It’s slow, delicate, piano-led (barely a guitar or banjo is sight), romantic, nostalgic and whimsical. And, above all else, it’s brilliant.
Like most of Hayman’s releases the thing that sets him apart from other writers of a similar ilk is the specifity of his lyrics: all the characters are named, they’re people with histories, with addresses, post codes. Take the album’s finale and title track, ‘The Ship’s Piano’. It’s a love song, sung to a piano. We hear how the piano was made, where it was played, how the people around it fall in love. We hear about the funeral from which it was absent, about the shed in which it gathers dust. It’s one of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
I’m going to resist the urge to finish this review by quoting all the stunning lines on this record. I’m discovering new ones every time I listen to it – and new meanings in the lines I liked the first time. I just noticed, for example, that there is a track, ‘No Children’, that must surely be a sneaky reference to the Mountain Goats song of the same name. And whilst writing I realised that there’s an even sneakier (maybe even unintentional) pun in the album title. “Piano”, from Italian, means ‘quiet’, it means hushed – the ship is piano, it is quiet, things are settling down, being brought to rest. It’s an image that I think sums up this album as well as anything could.
Words: Tom Moyser
You can grab a free download of the album’s title track here, while the video is below.