Epsom Racecourse, Surrey Thursday, July 19
It’s as random as Noel Fielding’s Twitter feed that the second the shot rings out across Epsom Racecourse to mark the end of the day’s races, the hardened gamblers, local stoner kids and picnicking families gather at a stage by the winning post to watch Razorlight. But not as random as Razorlight themselves.
When we say ‘Razorlight’, of course, we mean the raggle-taggle band of cartoon crazies Johnny Borrell has gathered. The bassist, Freddie Stitz, looks like a cross between D’Artagnan and a Pirate Of The Caribbean. The guitarist, Gus Robertson, like a top-hatted, velvet-jacketed perv-rocker you’d never let show your child around his ‘chocolate factory’. Add in a keyboardist done up like Cecil B DeMille in 1926 and you have a fancy-dress freakshow designed, you can only presume, to muffle Borrell’s clichéd rock star indulgences of the past and make him seem a modest, down-to-earth figure in contrast.
It works – as, amazingly, does the line-up shift. Borrell piles into ‘In The Morning’ a new man, the tune strutting and shimmying with fresh vigour in the hands of a band as tight as they seem incongruous. Yes, the sprightly ‘Rip It Up’ seems to slip out of their grasp and run away from them, but their fag-chuffing rawk poise gives the barnyard jig of ‘Before I Fall To Pieces’ a stadium rock brush-up, as it does to an ecstatic ‘Vice’. They’re even playful enough to throw in a few of the covers they’ve been playing at recent club gigs: a sax-blasted Bowie-style take on The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’ lets them indulge their session muso-prog fripperies, and they rev Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’ until it spews fervid oil smoke.
The now 32-year-old Johnny is assured and revitalised, oozing his panicked poet soul over ‘In The City’ and ‘Wire To Wire’, and dropping out of ‘Golden Touch’ for a huge singalong chorus. Aside from the two-minute garage-punk roar ‘Good Night’, his new songs are a smart side-step around the ’80s revival – ‘Dead Boy’ imagines a zombie Talking Heads hammering rocks on a chain gang, ‘Reveal Yourself’ has all the funk-pop density of Peter Gabriel or The Police, and ‘Vertical Women’ is a partner-swinging Springsteen rocker that casts Borrell, against type, as a bedroom blow-out: “[i]I see vertical women/But I can’t get it right[/i]”. As ‘Somewhere Else’, ‘Stumble & Fall’ and a final ‘America’ romp home, it seems Razorlight aren’t the three-legged nag some would have us believe, but rather a strangely attired thoroughbred.