The Killers – Sam’s Town

Two years on from the huge success of ‘Hot Fuss’, The Killers are faced with the second album problem common to the few bands whose debuts surpasses even their wildest rock-star fantasies by selling millions of copies while ensuring top 10 places in end of year magazine polls. Thrust into a position of global stardom, the band have decided to eschew the Spiders From Mars fronted by Morrissey prototype of their debut and head off down the open road of discovery towards a New Sound.

Thus, the Killers have chosen to move away from the gleeful mining of the Indie/New Wave scene of 80’s Britain, and infused their follow up with something a little closer to home through the gleeful mining of American stadium rock in um, the 80’s. Still, in terms of a change of musical direction, it’s a start, and preferable to churning out the same tired formula repeatedly no matter how successful (and fun) it may have been first time round.

So ‘Sam’s Town’ sees the band expanding the scope of their music and embracing the possibilities of worthy stadium rock, excessive production and straying into territory that sounds suspiciously like power ballads. The title track paves the way, beginning as it does with a grandiose drum roll and ascending layers of guitar and synch that give way to heavily dubbed vocals about ‘Red white and blue upon a birthday cake’, ‘A shuttle on a shockwave ride’ and a ‘Brother born on the 4th of July’, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Indeed ‘Sam’s Town’s entire lyrical content (including many of the track titles) seems to be taken from a sort of cut and paste job on old Bruce Springsteen and Jim Steinbeck lyric sheets with frequent references to singer Brandon Flowers ‘Riding with the devil’ on the ‘open road’ with the ‘sun on his back’ dreaming of ‘breaking out of this two-star town’ on ‘the back of a hurricane that started turning when….’well, you get the picture. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, I like weather metaphors as much as the next man, but it does lead to a view of the album as a whole as a huge amount of synthy fanfare and pompous production without much in the way of meaning or message.

Thankfully the tunes are still there, with the bands grasp of melody and ability to conjure up catchy hooks remaining strong throughout the album where ‘Hot Fuss’ tended to tail off towards the end. Songs like the title track, ‘Read My Mind’ and future single ‘Bones’ display a confidence and bravura that won so many over the first time around, and interspaced with classics from the first album at next years festivals should continue to cement the bands reputation as one of the biggest bands in the world.

Yet this, ultimately, is what lets the album down, in that there is nothing here anywhere near as exciting as ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘Smile Like You Mean it’ or anything as endearingly silly as ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’. Somewhere amongst the beards, bombastic Meat Loaf-esq production and desire to actually mean something, the band have lost a little of what made them so special in the first place. Still, The Killers have produced an ambitious, if relatively unexciting follow up and one whose sales should ensue they can continue for long enough to get back at what they’re really good at.


Razorlight – Razorlight

Ah, the ‘difficult’ 2nd album. Mercilessly seized on by punter and critics alike, keen to lambaste its similarity/difference from the first one and the how said band are no longer the ultra hip, underground, ‘authentic’ prospect they once were 2 years ago when you liked them, which was WAY BEFORE ANYONE ELSE. And so we all move on to the next big thing, with skinnier, scrotal-maiming jeans, more jagged guitar lines that do that stop/start thing more than an OCD patient trying to leave their house, and, most importantly, the authenticity of the fact that no ones heard of them (yet).

For those bands who suddenly find that they’ve outgrown the maddeningly tiny parameters of Indie credibility, the options are quite worrying. Leave the sweat box’s behind and book Wembley arena, swap the high octane kinetic excitement for an ‘Epic new sound’, and accept the terrible truth that your music, the art form you use to express your innermost feelings and emotions, will be mass-marketed and plastered everywhere from Topman to Hollyoaks.

It is a future that is almost a certainty for a band like Razorlight and their follow up to 2004’s ‘Up All Night’ reflects both the inevitability of their newfound mass appeal and a subsequent unwillingness to give too much of themselves away. What we’re left with is an album that moves away the beat-poet clatter of its predecessor and flirts nervously with a variety of musical styling’s (most of which seem to be worrying variations of 80’s American AOR, FM Rock and Police style cod reggae) without ever sounding totally at home in any of them.

Such willingness to broaden their horizons should not be derided of course, and Razorlight should be applauded for not merely replicating ‘Up All Night’, but the resultant scratching around for a direction or common theme sounds so halfhearted and soulless that I for one would have preferred an ‘Up All Night MKII’ even if all the riffs were ripped off Television and Patti Smith.

Lead single ‘In The Morning’ is actually a pretty decent start to the album with Andy Burrows pounding drums and Bjorn Agren’s tight, jumpy guitar jabbing through Johnny Borrell’s vocal stylings, but even here there is a worrying lack of substance in lines such as ‘Last night was so much fun. But now your sheets are dirty, the streets are dirty too’, and only picks up any kind of pace in the last 20 seconds or so.

And there’s worse to come. ‘Who Needs Love’ is a nice enough rumination on relationships, with Johnny deriding a (hopefully deliberate) list of clichés about love before admitting he is too much of a believer to pack the whole thing in altogether, but the song is essentially a pastiche of 50’s R&B and ultimately lacks conviction. The telling moment coming near the end as Borrell attempts to kick the song on towards a fitting climax, crying ‘Come on Andy!’, to which his drummer responds with a weak little fill before the song carries on in the same single paced monotony as before.

Later tracks barely even warrant comment with ‘Hold On’, ‘Cant Stop This Feeling I’ve Got’ and ‘Back To The Start’ drifting by in a kind of Phil Collinsy fog of mediocrity that is as dangerously numbing as Carbon Monoxide poisoning with the added problem that you can hear it, while ‘Pop Song 06’, imaginative title and all, is at least offensive enough to remind you to actually listen to it. ‘Kirby’s House’ shows just how bland they’ve become, even in 6 months, with the originally powerful ‘Warchild’ track stripped down in production, heart and soul.

Album closer ‘Los Angeles Waltz’ at least has a descent tune (being as it’s ripped off from ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ and all), but its lyrical vagueness sums the album up all to well, Johnny lamenting ‘Maybe I’ll get right out of here/All the way to Turnpike Lane/ Find me a girl that can calm me right down/It’s been such a fucked up year’ without ever coming close to revealing the reason for his malaise.

Worst of all is their ‘epic’ and recent chart topper ‘America’, which appears to be an attempt to stretch one very basic concept (‘um, like, there’s a country called America.…um, its, like, different over there… um, there’s often, like, trouble in America…’ etc etc) over four minutes of predictably ponderous backing and contains lines of such political and emotional import as ‘All my life, watching America / All my life, there’s panic in America. / Oh Oh Oh, Oh! There’s trouble in America, Oh Oh Oh, Oh.’

It’s the epitome of New ‘Razor-lite™’ in its neat, calculated, sterile presentation (the video is one of those abject ‘band rehearsing in the studio’ atrocities) and stadium embracing appeal that will allow thousands of people who aren’t really into music that much to respond with heartfelt emotion they will never feel to Borrell’s Bono-esq song ending howl of ‘Tell me how does it feel?’ Um, pretty uninspiring actually Johnny.


Kasabian ‘Empire’

It’s never been in Kasabian’s modus operandi to create anything particularly innovative or, in fact, non-derivative of their heroes, (their debut being a fairly enjoyable yet decidedly soulless effort based round Mani-esq basslines, Scream-y electroids and Quoasis style Singing Along) but surely we could have expected something slightly more inspired than this depressingly bland and one dimensional mess of an album.

While for many, the chief problem with Kasabian is that their macho personas and boorish proclamations of their own greatness act as a distraction from their music, this latest showing would suggest that such unwarrented bravado is the least of the bands problems. Indeed their ability to fire off ridiculous quotations, such as describing their ‘new’ sound as like ‘Marc Bolan smoking crack with Dr Who’, seems, at the moment to the bands one saving grace.

By now, anyone reading this will have been subjected to the album’s two lead singles which at least do the listener the courtesy of having a tune. By the time you come to album closer ‘The Doberman’, it is evident that such things are in short supply in Leicester. So, while the title track is fine in its stomp-along pomposity, the lack of any sense of dynamics or ability to work around a basic musical theme (unless you count that bit where the music drops out and we’re treated to the sound of the lads clapping and squeeling for a bit) is pretty disconcerning, especially as the following tracks get steadily worse.

‘Shoot The Runner’ sees Kasabian gleefully gang banging Marc Bolan’s bloody body in the back seat of his smashed up purple mini before going off for a joy ride through a seemingly never ending nightmare of a lyrical landscape where Tom Meighan is ‘a king and she’s my queen, bitch!’.

Amazingly things get worse from here on in. ‘Last Trip In Flight’ is more like the Kasabian of old, but utterly without edge or verve and passes by with barley a whimper, ‘Me Plus One’ once again features a handclap solo before returning to its insipid labotomised Primal Scream on Valium ramblings. ‘Apnoea’ is so bad it almost has to be heard to believed, and provides proof if ever it were needed that getting a shit dj to mix ‘Setting Sun’ by the Chemical Brothers and ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer while some drunken prick tries to freestyle over the top is an awful idea.

At this point I feel it would be remiss of me not to point out that the lyrics on ‘Empire’ are simply terrible. ‘Stuntman’ features such gems as ‘More kinda taken for the one inside, that’s how he sits between my ears, He moves in man that’s how I love that rush, cos you wipe away these tears,’ and with Meighan’s weak, wailed vocals shoved high up in the mix, such ramblings are annoyingly hard to ignore.

The album concludes with the acoustic musings of Serge Pizzorno, which manages the almost impossible feat of being vocally worse than everything that has come before, but at least provides 2 minutes of respite from the over-produced electronic fuzz and tacked on choirs and strings of the previous tracks. Finally we have the big hand-clapping finale of ‘The Doberman’ in which all the lazy tricks of the previous tracks are hammered together with depressing inevitability by the bands sadly unshakable sense of their own importance. ‘Silence in the yard/ Doberman’s asleep/ Watch them disappear’. If only.


Dylan Moran – Brighton Dome – 12/10/08

The Brighton Magazine – 21-10-08

Showmanship has never been Dylan Moran’s forte.

Those with only a cursory knowledge of his oeuvre gleaned from the shambolic, slurring, misanthropic alcoholic played with such élan in ‘Black Books’ might be surprised to find that his stand up persona is pretty much identical to his TV creation.

Even his movie-star style pose in the promotional posters that accompany this latest tour, ‘What It Is’, can’t hide the fact that Moran approaches his live shows in a manner that suggests he would rather be anywhere in the world, doing anything else at all than standing in front of an audience telling jokes.

Thankfully, this is not the case.

The show starts with Moran ambling on to the slightly over-enthusiastic strains of the Kings of Leon, and proceeding to tell the audience how great Brighton is, and reminding the assembled throngs how lucky they are to be somewhere other than, say, Stoke.

This gives way to a wider rumination on national stereotypes under the guise of a plea for tolerance, during which the French are labelled smelly, the Scots depicted as violent drunks and the Spanish dismissed as lazy, bull killing romantics.

All of which would be a recipe for disaster if attempted by most other comedians, yet Moran’s inspired delivery, somehow both florid and furious, continually escalates such well worn subjects into the realms of peerless hysterical hyper-surrealism.

Moran has claimed in interviews preceding this tour that “The topic is neither here nor there – the approach is everything, whether it’s men and women, cats and dogs or Israel and Palestine.’’ and this ability to present old comedic themes in a fresh and engaging way is absolutely essential for a comedian with such an irascible persona.

Indeed Moran’s topics of conversation are almost exclusively a litany of modern woes that range from the aging process to yoga.

Yet his capacity to create new angles on topics through surrealist word play combined with his uncanny ability to swoop from stream of consciousness ramblings to pierce the heart of the issue with one incisive punch line that has the Dome audience eating out of his hand.

One part in particular about the process of giving someone the ‘silent treatment’ which refers to “Slamming the cupboard door closed in exasperation as it fails to contain the justification for what a massive prick you’ve been.’’ leads to a riot of laughter throughout the sold out crowd.

Some of the routines failed to find their mark to quite the same degree, and it is still slightly disconcerting to see a major comedy performer check his watch while onstage.

But this is part of Moran’s charm, and it’s reassuring that appearances in major British films such as ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘A Cock and Bull Story’ have not diminished the sense of impending menace implicit in a show that one feels could fall apart at any moment.

He may lack showmanship, social graces and, at some points, a coherent idea of where his set is going, but on this form Dylan Moran remains one of the nation’s finest stand up comedians.

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