London Wembley Arena

The likes of [B]'The Bartender And The Thief'[/B] and [B]'Just Looking'[/B] are filled with infectious urgency - but still demand to be described in local newspaper music page clichis. The 'driving

We need bands like Stereophonics. Or so the cynical consensus would have you believe. Because, even if you couldn’t pick them out of a post-Britpop identity parade, they provide an important service as one of those decent, if unspectacular, bands that keep the music scene ticking over in the breathing spaces between the high rollers.

At their best they, how you say, ‘rock’ – the likes of ‘The Bartender And The Thief’ and ‘Just Looking’ are filled with infectious urgency – but still demand to be described in local newspaper music page clichis. The ‘driving’ beat, ‘soaring’ voice, ‘beefy’ riffs, verse, chorus, and considerable ‘moshpit action’ third on the bill at Reading. Pint of lager? Cheers! What time are the Manics on? Just off to the bog…

So what exactly are they missing? Well, you only have to ask bands like Stereophonics to find out the difference between the Premier League and Top Of The Nationwide League bands. They’ll invariably tell you that their band, quite simply, modestly, unpretentiously, sincerely, believe in ‘writing great songs’. Who could ask for anything more?

We won’t answer that question, because it is the very reason why Stereophonics and so many other coulda-been contenders of the ’90s, from Ocean Colour Scene to Shed Seven, never quite made that leap into greatness. Because you get into the songs and not the band. Because they’re too scared, too unimaginative, too uninspired, and too uninspirational to make anything more than a good tune.

This second album exemplifies many fine things about Stereophonics – their gut-level understanding of pop metal, the power-trio visceral impact of their sound, and most of all, Kelly Jones‘ lyrics. Because that’s the one area in which they’re not scared of their older brothers belting them around the head for creatively stating something more than the obvious. Kelly Jones dares to tell stories, which is something his impressionistic contemporaries could learn from. He deals in the beauty, sadness and bad craziness of commonplace things everyone else thinks aren’t worth a second glance. Witness the angry refusal of ‘Hurry Up And Wait’ to take what you’re given, or the soured-dreams vignette of ‘She Takes Her Clothes Off’.

But elsewhere, the signifiers of mediocrity are all too evident – the pseudo-profundity of meaningless song titles like ‘Half The Lies You Tell Ain’t True’, the pedestrian rhythm, and the tendency towards ooompah-chucka folkish jaunts. All those songs need now is Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals and a Number 24 hit is theirs for the taking. Stereophonics will doubtless carry on making really quite good records and filling flag-waving summer gigs for the next few years. But whether they have the courage, the vision, the charisma or the originality to be more than that is a question only they can answer.