Miles Hunt’s new solo album came into being as a result of performing with one of his heroes, Tom Robinson. During the course of a conversation, Robinson put across the viewpoint that all the songs that Hunt has now written belong to his audience; that his job (as with any other songwriter) is to see that the songs are treated and performed with respect. It’s an interesting idea, and one that it’s easy to be sympathetic to.
So The Custodian is a double album of thirty songs written over the past forty years. It begins with the very first song that he wrote, as a thirteen year old – ‘Speakeasy’ – and concludes, appropriately with a new song, ‘Custodian.’ Comparisons with this collection could be drawn with the three Acoustic Classics albums that Richard Thompson (another songwriter Hunt admires) has released this decade. It’s simply Hunt singing and accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar. In a similar way to the Thompson albums, one of the most impressive things is just how easy to listen to it as an entire album. It is testament to Hunt’s tremendous skill as both a songwriter and performer just how well it all flows together. In lesser hands, this might be an album just to dip in and out of, but not here.
Not surprisingly, much of the material comes from Hunt’s regular job as singer of the Wonder Stuff, although there are also songs from his solo albums, and Vent 414 (the band Hunt formed after the Wonder Stuff split for six years in 1994). Given that the instrumentation of these songs gave them a particular group sound, in less skilful hands this could have felt half-arsed. But, this approach shines a new light on them. Perhaps the shining light in the whole collection is ‘On The Ropes.’ A top 10 hit from 1993, and the first single from the Stuffies’ fourth album, Construction For The Modern Idiot, it still contains the emotion that the original recording (still) has, but this version shows just how well the song is put together. Not for the first time, the inclusion of songs like ‘Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print’ show just how good the b-sides often were, too.
Whilst the second disc may contain songs that aren’t as well known, there are still so many gems within. ‘The Custodian’ is an excellent addition to his songwriting catalogue, and as last year’s album with his partner Erica Nockells, We Came Here To Work, he’s still touched with a particular gift. That album is represented here with ‘The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends.’
This album succeeds on so many levels, but in essence, it is an album that stands on its own terms, and highlights just how brilliant a songwriter Miles Hunt is. Respect is due.