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Kiran Gupta reviews Stairly (Alastair Hoskinson)’s new single, ‘Golden’.
‘Golden’ is a song that is very familiar to most Drew’s people now. We have seen Alastair Hoskinson (fR 2020) performing it at numerous jam nights of the last two years, getting the whole crowd up with the phone torchlights and chanting for an encore. We’ve all been telling him to record it. Now, under his artist name Stairly, and with the help of Anthony Rositano (Past Mayfair – fR 2017), he has gone and done just that. The result is a transcendental power ballad that channels the past greats of Elton John and Billy Joel whilst mixing in the modern sounds of Harry Styles, Jeremy Zucker and other 2020s pop.
It is evident from the song is that Hoskinson has a very clear understanding of his style and his audience. He resists the urge for superfluous runs and tricks or the Queen-esque guitar solos that everyone wants to emulate in music of this style and starts the song with very minimal production. This allows his voice and the meaning of the song to shine through with power and stunning resonance.
The slight rasp in his tone brings the pain of the lyrics to the forefront. This is where the song truly shines. Hoskinson writes in a way that goes straight to the soul, with a universal message that anyone can identify with.
He says, “We often cling to positive memories to avoid the gut-wrenching reality of a broken relationship. While reflecting on time with an ex-love can be an emotionally draining process, it’s not always a negative experience. Golden explores the bittersweet reality of remembering happy times with someone that’s no longer a part of your life.”
Hoskinson gently presses on the imperfections in relationships and the paradoxes that arise from these connections. One of my favourite lines of the song is when he says, “it’s funny how you say you need your space, when I’m 10,000 miles away.” To me, this masterfully encapsulates the song’s tension in a single line.
The tension between the positive and the negative really shines through the whole song. There is never really a sense of closure in the lyrics and it seems that this is what Hoskinson wants to convey. We are conditioned to try to derive meaning or a sense of closure from everything we experience, and this song is Hoskinson’s way of saying that sometimes this tension can never be resolved and it’s enough to find peace in that.
Musically, whilst staying true to his roots, Hoskinson (with the help of Rositano) does just enough to back enough the strength of the lyrics without going over the top. Even though the opening is fairly sparse, every now and then, they throw in a bit of synthesiser or backing harmonies to keep the listener guessing a bit. In a way, this fits the lyrical content of the song. For Hoskinson, nothing is predictable, and every moment is a new experience.
The ending is by no means bombastic, but it doesn’t have to be. The strings and Hoskinson’s powerful vocals build sufficient climax whilst allowing the power of the lyrics to simmer in our minds and soar over the production. Here, there’s no question that Hoskinson and Rositano have nailed the balance of power and simplicity.
This is not a song you’d expect of a student. This is a song you’d expect of a seasoned songwriter and hitmaker. I wouldn’t see this as out of place on a Harry Styles album. In the same vein, it wouldn’t be out of place on a 1970s Elton John or David Bowie record either. Even so, Hoskinson has stayed true to his own style and his own integrity and that shines through on the song as well. He has taken a powerful message and glistened it with raw emotion and a hint of flair. For that, he should be incredibly proud, and we should count ourselves incredibly lucky to have had the pleasure of listening to this song, both live and on this recording.
Image: Alastair Hoskinson