If 2004 belonged to one particular artist, it was Katie Melua. Pete Doherty may have grabbed the tabloid headlines, and Franz Ferdinand may have stolen the kids' hearts, but the biggest selling artist of the year was a 19 year old former student taken under the wing of former Womble Mike Batt.
Those barometers of middle class taste, Terry Wogan and Michael Parkinson, plugged her debut album Call Off The Search incessently until it seemed you couldn't escape that plantive cry of "feeling 22, acting 17" wherever you went". She even turned up on the Band Aid 20 single, wearing a rather endearing pair of earmuffs.
On The Road Again is a collection of live performances from Melua, the major highlight being a gig in Croydon during March 2004. The second disc is filled with miscelleanous details, such as Katie in South Africa, an experimental digital video recording of a portion of her Royal Albert Hall gig and the usual mix of interviews and videos.
The Croydon gig is what most people who buy this DVD will be watching, and it's the perfect opportunity to see why Melua is so popular. She gives an ultra-polished performance, sings perfectly, each band member plays their part flawlessly and the whole evening is very nice and cosy. And there, in a nutshell, is the problem with Katie Melua.
It's impossible to criticise her, as she does what she does very well indeed, but watching this DVD you're aching to see some passion or some excitement. Instead, we get nice, polite but ultimately bland renditions of the Call Off The Search album highlights. Melua is a stunningly attractive woman, with big brown eyes and a shock of curly brown hair, but you don't get to see much of her personality. What you do see is a woman old before her time - contrast her with the similarly aged Charlotte Church, a woman who's in no doubt about what being a teenager is all about.
It's not helped by the fact that she remains more or less stock still on stage either - say what you will about the much maligned Jamie Cullum (who appeals to a similar audience as Melua), but he knows a bit about stage presence. Melua, in contrast, always looks slightly awkward and apologetic, which is a shame. It's not always so - as her performance of Canned Heat's On The Road Again in the South African section shows, when she loosens up and enjoys herself, she instantly becomes a much more interesting performer.
There's an intriguing selection of cover versions chosen for the Croyden gig, but they don't really work either. The Cure's Love Cats has all the individuality and quirkiness drowned out of it, while I Think It's Going To Rain Again is missing Randy Newman's original pathos. Liliac Wine meanwhile, would have been fine had it not been previously covered by Jeff Buckley - to be fair, there's not many performers who can top a Buckley cover.
Her own material fares better - Belfast (Penguins And Cats) is a genuinely lovely ballad, showing Melua's voice at its best, while Closest Thing To Crazy still sounds rather nice, despite it being flogged to death by those intensely annoying sofa adverts earlier in the year. A new song is also premiered, Spider's Web, which indicates that Melua's second album is probably going to replicate the success of her debut despite some slightly clumsy, if no doubt well intentioned, lyrics about racism.
The second disc is interesting, if only for the multi-camera coverage of Melua at the Royal Albert Hall. It consists of 100 digital camcorders recording the performance, and is a fascinating technical exercise. Truth be told, it becomes a bit gimmicky by the end of the gig, but it's nice to see directors experimenting with the format.
There's also highlights of Melua's performance at the Nelson Mandela 46664 Concert, and some promo videos and interviews that have previously been released on other discs, but are included here as part of 'tidying up' exercise presumably.
Ultimately, this review is rather superflous - if you're a Katie Melua fan, you'll run out and buy it and throughly enjoy it. It's just a bit frustrating for a neutral observer that such an undoubted talent plays it safe so often, never pushing through that tasteful, yet rather dull, veneer. Hopefully, she'll one day have the confidence to take a few risks and produce something from the heart. Until then, On The Road Again is for fans only.