Watch out. Johnny Borrell is back in time to spoil many music lovers’ festive season with a new album that threatens to tear up the rule book by forging a ‘new direction’ for the nation’s favourite band, Razorlight (his words, not mine).
Borrell, the possessor of the biggest ego in rock since David Crosby, has been sticking in the craw of many for a long time now, not least his put upon bandmates. Drummer Andy Burrows must be feeling particularly hard done by, having penned the band’s only Number 1 hit (America) and co-written another of their better songs (Before I Fall To Pieces), while appearing to get zero acknowledgement from the music press.
Burrows appears to have patched up some of the differences with his lead singer this time around, landing co-writing credits on four tracks from Slipway Fires. Indeed, the album appears to be a more band-orientated exercise than previous efforts, which is no bad thing for those fed up of living on planet Borrell.
Lead single and album opener Wire To Wire provides immediate evidence of the change in musical direction. No tub thumping indie rock anthem, the track’s slow burn piano-led melody is genuinely striking while Borrell reins in his vocal to the point where he sounds as tender as he has ever done.
The skittering rhythms of Hostage Of Love and You And The Rest work well enough without exactly straying too far from the indie rock blueprint. The band slips back into old ways with undue haste on the next two tracks, however, with Tabloid Lover and North London Trash coming across as a poor man’s Suede and sub-par Oasis respectively. Really, the latter makes Noel’s The Importance Of Being Idle sound like a veritable masterpiece.
Just when you think the album is sinking into mediocrity, Borrell and company respond with two of the best tracks they have ever put their names to. The restrained acoustics of 60 Thompson complement the album’s best melody line, while Stinger works up from a bluesy opening into a dynamic chorus that is sure to have the stadium crowds all a quiver.
It is at this point that I began to wonder whether Borrell might be straying too far from the safety of the foursquare indie pop that propelled him to stardom in the first place. Burberry Blue Eyes attempts to redress the balance with mixed results, grafting one of the album’s better lyrics onto a middling tune.
Worse follows on Blood For Wild Blood, a ludicrously dramatic piano ballad that exposes all the limitations of Borrell’s vocals. Meanwhile, the jumble of time changes and different vocal styles on Monster Boots overshadow the song’s lack of any real melody.
Of course, Borrell being Borrell, he has the last laugh. The House is a touching tribute to his dead father that teeters on the edge of mawkishness but in the end convinces through sheer force of personality. Maybe our Johnny just wants to be loved. Time will tell, but for now expect Slipway Fires to do brisk business.