But then, there’s often relief in shucking a responsibility which you knew you never had the stomach for. “A child’s morning prayer couldn’t save my soul / or deliver you the miracle that I know you’re waiting for. / Oh, where is the good in anything, / when there’s no love in your heart any more?” This is less David Hurn Unplugged than David Hurn Unshaven – as if he’s woken up to find that much in the world still sucks, but has met the day with a wry grimace and is simply getting on with it, having learned the protective value of the shrug. Even when delivering a line like “the little piece of hope that I had – well, it just turned bad, / and it’s hiding in my flesh but it’s never coming back”, his lugubrious voice has a shadowed smile to it that it’s never possessed before: even a hint of flirtation.
Despite the soakings of Americana, No Love is a change from David’s previous leanings towards the moodiness of American Music Club and Ryan Adams. As is his Elvis tribute in covering Is It So Strange – faithful to every nuance of slapback, shake’n’tremble and deep-fried ham, it’s full-fat Presley rendered with unconditional love, rather than the cartoon camp that usually strangles that Memphis hiccup. But the familiar Hurn sadcore isn’t far away: the gorgeous alternative “slow version” of No Love (drowning in Low murmur and narcotic steel guitar) could’ve sat proudly on AMC’s ‘Engine’ or ‘United Kingdom’.
Both Books Etc. and Ballad For A Lost Cause – the latter recorded live at Moriarty’s, with police sirens howling past and bleeding through the walls – are quiet acoustic-driven breaths fogging the cold mirror of hope, struggling with self-determination (“I don’t need to know if anything’s above me, watching me cry my tears. / Don’t need a light showing me my fears,”) and delivering harsh truths (“the lesson is hard only if you’re stupid /and didn’t know what you threw away, / or what you could have saved…”). Ballad For A Lost Cause in particular – with its Nick Drake mixture of deceptively soft textures and oblique, meditative lyrics – sees David keeping a firm grip on his lonesome songwriter laurels as he picks apart another story from a mishandled life. “Failure to the end, you didn’t know how to win favours from impossible dreams. / So you should hold something back, but you’ll never see…”
He hasn’t thrown away the key to his bedsit yet, whatever the pull of that train-whistle.
David Hurn: ‘No Love’
Fire Records, PUFF 003
Released: 24th June 2002