Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
JJ72 / Amen / Alfie / Starsailor: London Astoria
Alfie's shambolic melodicism wins out over the rawk assault of Amen and JJ72 at the NME Carling Awards show...
Which can only mean Starsailor. Conventional wisdom has it that the 'Sailor will cruise away with the next twelve months just as Coldplay did last year, and the fact that singer James Walsh leads his band through an impeccably competent display of Buckley-esque blues just as Chris Martin did in exactly the same slot last year sends contented Groundhog Day shivers around the Astoria.
For Starsailors' is a conventional wisdom indeed, right down to the tasteful hammond organ flourishes and the finely-honed cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers 'Hot Burrito No.2'. They'll go a long way, to Jools Holland and beyond, just don't expect them to traverse the galaxy to get there.
Which is something you could never say about Alfie. Scruffy, sloppy and wilfully perverse, they'd have Jools frantically calling security rather than cosying up around the piano. Byrds'n'booze are their musical template, but the key lies with super-cool, stool-bound singer Lee Gorton. Much like Damon Gough, he'd rather forget the lyrics altogether than attempt any soaraway acrobatics and Alfie's quantum charm stems from him. "It's not easy, y'know," he mumbles at the close of a shambling set of glorious dope-folk, "this standing up business".
Which is at least one thing he's got in common with Casey Chaos. Not a second passes during Amen's frantic, heavy-mental set when Mr.C isn't attempting to up the ante by hurling himself across the stage, wrestling his guitarist to the floor in a full-Nelson or jumping precariously off a stack of amps. It's tag-team rock'n'roll, with Casey in opposition to anything you care to mention. It's exhilarating stuff, and by the end of a furious 'CK Killer' and 'Private' even the doubters have been shaken into attention.
Not that JJ72 make a noise anyone could ignore. Mark Greaney may look like an underfed stick-insect, but the raw fury in his voice is something to behold. It's like Mark Morriss in agony. In wild-eyed form, and obviously psyched-up by the trail of destruction left by Amen, he incinerates his own songs one by one before leaving us with an ear-shredding double whammy of
'Oxygen' and 'Snow'. The drums get trashed. The lights go up. The filth and the fury have both been delivered in fine style.
But something tells you the night really belongs to Alfie.
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