“Genie, this is Aladdin,” goes a vocal sample on the monologue that opens ‘Olympus Sleeping’, Razorlight’s first album in a decade. “Give me a Razorlight album that doesn’t totally suck.”
It’s not a skillset that is often associated with ‘indie big mouth’ Johnny Borrell – once famous for riding around on a Harley Davidson like an over-indulged ’70s rock star – but it turns out he is capable of self-awareness. Here’s the man once made a hero by his towering arena-ready guitar anthems, and simultaneously a villain for cocksure proclamations such as his infamous claim that “Dylan’s making chips and I’m drinking champagne”. His supposed ego would prove to be Borrell’s own petard, from which he was hoisted when third record ‘Slipway Fires’ saw the champagne turn to Blue Nun.
Well, now he’s back. Not for the headlines, and not to play the game – just for the love of doing it.
“When we were doing it in the ‘00s, the last thing any band wanted to do was be defined as ‘indie rock’ – you’d wince a little bit,” Borrell told NME in his comeback interview this summer. “Not just Razorlight, but every band. This time, it was about embracing English indie guitar pop. That’s what I love about it.”
The mission statement of the record comes in album opener ‘Got To Let The Good Times Back Into Your Life’. The razor blade guitars and dancefloor-ready rhythms would have sat easily alongside the likes of ‘Vice’ and ‘Don’t Go Back To Dalston’ back in 2004 – especially with a line like “You’ve got a landline, but you never call”. There’s Weller-esque bounce on ‘Brighton Pier’, a frenetic sugar rush on ‘Good Night’ and even a Kings Of Leon tribute on ‘Japanrock’.
The confessional wordplay and instant pop of gems of ‘Carry Yourself’ and ‘Sorry?’ have the same DNA of so many of their Absolute Radio forebears. Only the pursuit of a good time remains in the absence of Borrell’s ego. “Yeah, I sing for weddings / I play Bar Mitzvahs too,” he croons on ‘Iceman’. Funny, as a colleague informs me that in 2015 he saw the band who once headlined Reading performing at food festival ‘Grillstock’ in Walthamstow, shortly after a hot dog-eating competition.
‘Olympus Sleeping’ has no shame in what it’s ode to the indie genre. It’s got a smack of the teenage joy of their debut, but not the U2-threatening ambition of their self-titled record; nor is it as bloated as ‘Slipway Fires’. After a decade in the wilderness of making intentionally uncommercial jazz and world music side projects and undersung solo endeavours, Borrell is here with what he deems “a love letter to rock n’ roll”.
Razorlight are not here to save rock – they never were, and they’re more than aware of it. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but pulling the Harley out of the ditch.