Most folks will know Richard Edwards as the longtime frontman from Indianapolis based indie chamber pop and later rock leaning band “Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s”.
After dealing with the painful and worsening symptoms of CDI for many years which left him unable to tour as easily as he once had, Edwards quietly put Margot on hiatus to deal with his health issues.
During this time, he began writing songs for release under his own name which brings us to his debut album as a solo artist, “Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset”.
Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset Review
Before I completely dive into my Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset review, a bit of context.
I became a Margot fan when I first saw them perform on Conan in 2008. I quickly got acquainted with their first two releases “The Dust of Retreat” and “Animal!/Not Animal”.
Both records featured a number of refreshing and unique indie chamber pop gems made up of orchestral instruments in addition to the typical rock band elements. No one sounded like Margot on those early records as they carved out a very nice niche for themselves.
With the release of 2010’s “Buzzard” record, Edwards and the band trended into more conventional rock territory (albeit with their own spin on it) and I admit I was less interested with each release outside of a song or two.
My interest had all but waned by the time I heard that Edwards was set to release his solo record, but I decided to check it out from curiosity of wondering what his solo material might sound like compared to Margot.
The first single, “Disappearing Planets”, was the first thing I heard from it. It features a slow pacing leading into an intriguing hook with a sexy swagger to it and just the right amount of weird (or in Edwards’ words, intentionally “bad”) sax playing to round it out and draw me in. This is the song which put Edwards back on my radar in four and a half minutes.
Edwards followed this up with his second single, “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’”. The title unfortunately conjuring memories of Limp Bizkit aside, this is a fantastic rock track. It sounds a lot like the best dark and dirty rock songs that Margot was making, but with a superior confidence about them.
With these singles in mind as a taste, I eagerly awaited the release of the album in full.
Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset begins with a brief but lovely instrumental swell in the opening track which leads into the album proper in the second track, “Lil Dead Eye-d”.
After nine albums at the time of this review that Edwards has been the sole or primary songwriter of, this is on the shortlist for the best songs he’s ever written and one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.
Edwards has shared that his health issues limited his ability to sing and belt out vocals like he once did when he was recording this record. He essentially had to relearn to sing using less of his chest and more of his head voice, a process which yielded his most beautiful vocals to date on this record.
He’s tapped into a really interesting timbre with his head voice which allows him to effortlessly transition between his typical, dirtier Margot range and more delicate and breathed out vocals in his newer, much higher register.
Lil Dead Eye-d will grab any Margot fan’s ear for that reason as it showcases some of his most gentle and charming vocals he’s ever put on record.
A very stripped back acoustic number centered around a lovely mandolin riff which plays throughout, Lil Dead Eye-d is a bold way to begin the record and the last song which he wrote for it.
Lyrically the entire album is as strong as Edwards has ever been, as well.
In Lil Dead Eye-d, he sings “I’ve been bored in New York City, Bored anywhere a man can be, I got bored of you, but I thought…” before his thoughts drift off, perhaps unwilling to realize where that path will take him. There’s a wistful resignation in his voice in those verses before a nice bit of production brings the chorus in full view as Edwards admits “I’ve been thinkin’ about you.” in a simple but potent feeling.
While there are a handful of standout tracks like those mentioned, there is a really nice sense of cohesion throughout the record even on the less notable songs in the middle. It’s an impressive feat for a debut record, albeit from an artist who has been making music under a different moniker for years.
“Sister Wives” is a bit of a buried gem to me in the relatively packed backend of the record. A four minute slow groove which repeats the same falling chord progression throughout, Edwards ruminates on the basic concept from the namesake of the song. Light hearted lyrics about polygamy and reality television aside, it’s really hard to not feel your head nodding through.
It’s also one of many artful examples of how space and reverb on this record is used masterfully.
The guitars and vocals are the focus of this record and the production blends them beautifully as they wash over the listener’s ear, conjuring up images of the album title itself from the production alone.
It’s still mixed like a rock record, particularly on the more rocking tracks, so as beautiful as those vocals are they might be a bit too tucked under the rest of the production when there is a lot going on for some listener’s tastes like on tracks like “Pornographic Teens”, a moody and dark rock number which builds over a rolling tom-drum part.
As much as I love Lil Dead Eye-d, I think I have to end this review on what is likely my favorite from Richard Edwards, Margot or otherwise, in the album closer “Moonwrapped”.
Musically, it’s about as simple as Lil Dead Eye-d, trading out an acoustic guitar for haunting clean electric guitar softly finger strummed with about the best use of a tremolo effect I’ve ever heard. There are some backing vocals and the occasional swell of some lovely strings, but it’s Edward’s raw vocals on top of the guitar which is at the heart.
While admittedly sounding melodramatic while being completely sincere, I can make an argument that Moonwrapped is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in all my years on this planet.
Knowing that Edwards’ health issues cost him his marriage and that this song was undoubtedly written as a reflection on said failed marriage and as a letter to his ex-wife, this wistful ballad is easily the most emotional and powerful lyric on the record.
There are two lyrics in Moonwrapped in particular which level me every time I hear them.
The first is the bridge when the strings quiet down and Edwards vocals are at their most intimate on the entire record:
“Hey, Jelly, don’t cry, ‘Cause in the next life, there ain’t no stomachs,
And love don’t die, it moves through time (Forever) Where it’s always true”.
This is a direct reference to his long affliction of CDI which rendered him unable to live his life due to the debilitating stomach pain it causes. In Edwards’ own words you’re essentially dying with the illness, and the toll it took on him was too much for his marriage to withstand.
It’s unclear to me to whom “Jelly” refers to and as such whether this line is directed to his ex-wife or if it’s the sole line in the song meant for his young daughter which they share.
But whether it’s meant for his wife, daughter, or both, his assurance that in the next life the love that he and his ex-wife promised one another will last forever, like a storybook ending, it absolutely crushes me whenever I hear it.
The other line which is one of the all time greats is the final one on the record. It’s also remarkably a novel way of conveying three words which have been written arguably more than any three in the history of song lyrics.
“I loved you… I always do.”
I can’t recall a time when I’ve felt as brokenhearted over someone else’s lost love as I do here. The cruelty of the circumstances which led to the content of this song radiates with any listener familiar with the context, and it’s a testament to Edwards’ songwriting abilities.
Speaking of which, I always knew Richard Edwards had the ability to write great songs like those off of Margot’s first couple of records.
But for lack of a better way of putting it, he just hits a very nice pocket with his songwriting on this record.
To that point, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset is arguably Richard Edwards’ most consistent release of his prolific career.
It features the finest songs he’s ever written and single-handedly slingshotted (Margot pun) him from an artist I was about to give up on entirely to cementing his status as one of my favorite artists.
Outside of a couple tracks which are a bit weaker than the high standard set by the rest, this record is an absolute gem and one of only a small handful of records which I’m just grateful that it exists.
Richard Edwards – Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset Review Score: 4.5/5
You can listen to Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset or purchase it at https://richardedwards.bandcamp.com/album/lemon-cotton-candy-sunset