, November 18th, 2008 11:22
Now be honest. Everyone knows hindsight is 20/20, but back in 2004, when Razorlight's Up All Night flashed up the charts out and Johnny Borrell just seemed cocky and a bit dense rather than completely mental, you had to admit they had something.
Not brains, not charm, granted, but even the most anti-cliche would be forced to admit they did have a supernatural knack for a snappy, commercial indie tune. But how soon it all got out of hand. That bare-chested appearance at Live8, ludicrous fashion mag covers, lyrics like “I met a girl, she asked my name, I told her what it was”…
Still, if there was an uneasy sense of technical talent squandered by small brains and smaller ambitions, critical disappointment was more than made up for by Borrell’s new status as an irony-free Hasselhoff, a totally self-oblivious parody. What breathtaking mid-Atlantic-accented howler would he come out with next? How much more bombastic could his choruses get? What the Christ was he wearing?
The bar was set high for Slipway Fires, but lead single ‘Wire To Wire’, cleared it effortlessly. Its ponderous piano and farcically overblown delivery are good enough, but the shining pinnacle of preposterousness has to be the line “she lives on Disillusion Row”. Presumably that’s just a couple of streets across from Desolation Row, and a bit more upmarket. Those mindful of J.Bo’s early interview quote “Compared to the Razorlight album, Dylan’s making chips. I’m drinking champagne" will joy to hear such a forceful reminder of just where that McCain/Moet division actually falls. And all this before he gets to the horrifically Stanley Moon/Norma Desmond-ish cracked falsetto shriek of “Love me!”. Ironic? He bloody wishes.
Sadly, or perhaps happily for the good of our schadenfreude-addicted souls, the rest of the album is not so mirthful. In its strange mixture of depressing banality and lack of self-awareness bordering on the mentally ill, it feels a bit like laughing at Kerry Katona.
Plus, ‘Hostage Of Love’ is a nagging reminder of what could have been, if Jonny actually cared about what he thought of his music as much as he cared what other people did. A skipping, Springsteen/Petty-ish slap of joy, it’s sadly marred by clangers like “You are the pulley and I am the winch” and the franky unbelievable “Words of derision I have swallowed with a smile/For telling my story I have been crucified”. No, Johnny. Telling your story is fine. You’ve been crucified for being an utter tit.
Still, we’ll give him some much-needed benefit of the doubt and posit that “These middle class kids are so strange/They get everything for nothing” on ‘Tabloid Lover’ and the references to a ‘hot-bodied girlfriend… she makes the cameras flash” on ‘North London Trash’ are in some part, wry self-commentary. But even so, you’ll stumble when you get to the Dunst-slagging aside "she's slumming it in someone else's shoes". Er, que? SAYS YOU, you public-school junkie muppet.
Musically, it treads water and lacks the drive and direction of former efforts. Indeed, the rest is almost too depressing to talk about, but ‘Blood For Wild Blood’ is just monotonously clanging and terrible, and ‘The House’’s tear-choked references to “the house where my father died” would be horrifically over-egged even if Borrell’s father were not actually still alive. Fans (they must have some, it went to Number Four) will say that critics only review the frontman’s personality and can’t see the band for the Borrell. To which we must sigh and reply ‘If only you could… if only you could’.