Say what you like about Johnny Borrell, but Christ, if he isn’t one hell of a lot more fascinating than any other pop buffoon out there right now. More than one person I know who has interviewed him describes the experience of looking into his eyes as being akin to staring into Death Of A Salesman anti-hero Willy Loman’s. And that feels about right – empty, yet full of ambition and a lust for success that borders on dementia. But post-‘America’, post-Razorlight using every careerist trick in the book to become an actual big band, he’s not even annoying or hateable anymore. He’s just weird, utterly hilarious and quite disturbing.
Consider the pearl necklaces he’s been sporting in promo shots recently. Pearl friggin’ necklaces! Consider lead single ‘Wire To Wire’: all its preposterous, empty power-ballad sentiment, its video’s striking resemblance to David Brent’s ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ clip. Bonkers. And consider so, so many of the lyrics on the third Razorlight album. Gone are the laughably literal likes of “I met a girl/She asked me my name/I told her what it was” (from ‘Somewhere Else’) and “I go out somewhere/Then I come home again” (‘America’) replaced by words that are ludicrous in a totally different way. “I’ve been crucified just for telling my story!” he wails on ‘Hostage Of Love’. “These middle class kids are so strange!” he continues on ‘Tabloid Lover’. And the best one of all from ‘North London Trash’: “I’ve got a hot-bodied girlfriend, who makes the cameras flash!” All delivered with trademark, clunking over-sincerity and absolutely zero subtlety. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Really, it’s hard to know what to say.
All of these lunatic ramblings, of course, distract from what’s going on musically. A good thing, in many ways, as ‘Slipway Fires’ reveals Razorlight once more as just a boringly competent indie band masquerading as, at best, Fleetwood Mac and, at worst, Whitesnake. All of their arrangements, their histrionics are a long, long way from matching their singer’s stupidity. The Stars In Their Eyes’ U2 guitar intro of ‘Burberry Blue Eyes’, for example, falls horribly flat; ‘You And The Rest’ and ‘60 Thompson’ are just drab; and listening to the overblown, piano-led likes of ‘Blood For Wild Blood’ and closer ‘The House’ – once you get over the initial shock of the words – evokes the same feeling that watching the second stage of The X Factor does (you know, the bit where they whittle down the kind of OK people into the OK people). It’s here that Borrell is at his most ridiculous (and thus most entertaining), but the musicians behind him simply can’t keep up. Or don’t have the guts to point out to him how silly he may be appearing.
In simple terms, then, the third Razorlight album is utter, utter cobblers. This was expected, and will come as a surprise to no-one. It’s just a shame, for those of us who long ago stopped being irritated by Johnny Borrell and learned to laugh at his strange, strange ways, that it hasn’t gone far enough. It’s quite funny, sure, but not that funny. Mainly, it just sounds like another biggish, mainstream indie band trying to sound like the proper grown up stadium bands. It will probably sell shitloads, what with that similarly unintentionally hilarious Nickelback single doing so well this year. That’s where Razorlight are now. The people who bought that single will love this record. Mad people. Pearl necklaces!