Johnny Borrell backs up the big mouth...
If I was to start this review by declaring myself the greatest writer of my generation, you might read it with a vat-load of salt, right? If I compared these very words, not to those of my colleagues, but to Lester Bangs, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, you might mutter something along the lines of “fuck right off”, yeah? Well, that’s the position Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell finds himself in as judgement day descends on his band’s debut album. For months he’s mouthed off in a manner that makes Liam Gallagher look like Stuart Murdoch’s speech therapist. For this we should applaud him: it’s entertaining, makes NME’s job a piece of piss and is everything we demand of a well-cheekboned rock star. But now he’s made us look, he’s gotta make us listen…
So, before we tell you why ‘Up All Night’ is such a great record, let’s indulge in the noble art of knocking the lad down a peg or two. This debut is far from a perfect record. For starters, there are occasions where Johnny’s ‘beat poetry’ becomes teeth-grindingly bad: “She’s been reading Bukowski for days…” goes ‘In The City’, demonstrating a poetic ability that’s more Ringo than Rimbaud. Add to this the fact that songs filch heavily from Television (especially the opening guitar squiggles of ‘To The Sea’), [a]Strokes[/a] and [a]Patti Smith[/a] and we’ve got a case to have Johnny Borrell expelled from these pages forever, right? Wrong. For all its flaws, ‘Up All Night’ bristles with passion, energy and, most importantly, amazing songs.
The singles we already know – the punkoid jitters of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Lies’, ‘Rip It Up”s two-minute demand to remain on every indie-club playlist for the next ten years and, of course, the Midas-magic of ‘Golden Touch’. And do you know what? These re-recorded versions sound even better. The good news is that [a]Razorlight[/a] see the need for filler like [a]The Datsuns[/a] see the need for Kant’s Critique Of Pure Reason. ‘In The City’ feels way more epic than its five minutes may suggest, working itself up into something so frenzied we forgive it for ripping garage standard ‘Gloria’ wholesale. ‘Vice’, meanwhile, is their best track yet: Johnny’s voice yelping through a climax that could tingle the coldest spine (“Sometimes you fall/Into the arms of/No-one at all”). For all Johnny’s lofty poetic ambitions, it works in its simplicity. Likewise ‘Don’t Go Back To Dalston’, a poignant plea to Pete Doherty (“Don’t go back to Dalston/Just come on back to me”) which fits just as well as the most basic of love songs.
Oh yeah, for those reading outside the M25, Dalston’s a dilapidated part of east London infested with crackheads. Get used to this kind of reference, because the only way ‘Up All Night’ could be any more London is if its release was delayed by a signalling failure at Camden. Yet it’s no alienating, look-at-our-clique-rock-posse record. Just like Suede or The Slits, it sings of London in a fuck-me-I’m-going-to-pack-my-bags-tomorrow-and-move-to-the-smoke type way (at least until you find out the rent prices and settle for Slough instead).
We must give credit, of course, to Bjorn, Carl and Christian (now replaced by amiable train-leaper Andy Burrows). Yes, this record is Johnny’s vision, Johnny’s statement, Johnny’s labour of love, but his songs could have ended up as sprawling ego-fests were it not for the stop-start rhythms, ultra-tight basslines and jagged riffs, all restraining Johnny during the moments you can tell he’s about to unleash a stream-of-consciousness word-splurge about what he had for breakfast. And if the band’s influences are well-thumbed, then so be it – at least they know how to cut out the dross and squeeze other bands’ entire back catalogues into three-minute bursts of ampheta-pop.
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Saved by the song, then, [a]Razorlight[/a]’s debut packs more tunes than Franz, more spirit than [a]Strokes[/a] and more balls than nearly every band out there right now. Is it as good as Johnny thinks it is? No. But as the man who walked from [a]Libertines[/a] just as things began going their way, he has a lot to prove, so it is the sound of four guys pouring their heart and souls into a record. Johnny Borrell’s made many outlandish claims in these pages – genius songwriter, better than Dylan, the guy who can solve world poverty (well, it’s only a matter of time).
Slowly but surely, they’re proving themselves to be not that outlandish after all. By the way, he reckons ‘Up All Night’ is the perfect document of “living with passion, spirit, spark and desire in the dirty old city”. Doubters beware: Bigmouth’s about to strike again.
Get ‘Up All Night’ at the NME Shop