Album review: I Am Arrows (Mercury)

Like Casablancas after The Strokes, or maybe Obama after Bush, Johnny Borrell's ex-drummer offers some interesting contrasts

[a]Andy Burrows[/a] probably endured heavier shit storms than [a]Kings Of Leon[/a] did the other week during his five-year stint as Razorlight’s drummer. But even a list of the atrocities Johnny Borrell committed against indie-rock – a lengthy screed that features topless (save for a leather jacket) poses astride his Harley Davidson, that god-awful song about his “hot-bodied girlfriend” (shudder) and an outrageously self-important third album that displayed a more intense Messianic complex than even David Icke has been able to muster – doesn’t fully account for the “personal differences” that Burrows cited so politely as the reason for his [a]Razorlight[/a] exit. In order to get a clearer picture of what he really meant, just listen to his full-length debut proper.

‘Sun Comes Up Again’ blurs the line between feel-good and bone-weary, as on the skittery, [a]Tunng[/a]-like ‘Far Enough Away’ and the twinkly-toed ‘No Wonder’, two songs that exude a feeling that’s part post-Razorlight shellshock and part huge sigh of relief. There’s tenderness too – the same Burrows brought to ‘The Colour of My Dreams’, the short, kids’ poetry-inspired album he released in 2008 to raise funds for a children’s hospice.

He hasn’t changed things a great deal since that 13-minute release, just fleshed out the ideas and allowed us further into his record collection. And refreshingly for all but the hoariest, it doesn’t appear to include any [a]U2[/a] or Springsteen. Bliss. Rather, ‘Sun Comes Up Again’ is dominated by the sweet songwriterly pop of Todd Rundgren, Macca and ELO, as well as a grab-bag of influences that show Burrows to be agreeably earthy, like the lo-fi funk of sorely missed nearly men [a]Clor[/a], the implausibly melodic US pop of [a]Brendan Benson[/a] and [a]Elliott Smith[/a], and the gently heart-buffeting emotion of [a]The Beta Band[/a] and [a]Steve Mason[/a].

In spite of its short burst of Dick Dale twang, ‘Nice Try’ is an ear-worming, piano-helmed indie-lounge song delivered in sweet falsetto, in which Burrows sings “Nice try, but we’re never going to make this fit”; ‘Green Grass’ grooves eccentrically about dreams gone wrong; and ‘Bruises’ seems to be the most cathartic and near-overwrought of these pretty songs. Most are about breaking up and feeling bereft, but it’s difficult to imagine that he’s hankering after Razorlight. And though the album begins to wear a little thin over 14 tracks all played in one speed – slowly undulating – it’s never guilty of being lacklustre.

‘Sun Comes Up Again’ is so warm-natured, easy-going and mellifluous that its charms are nigh on impossible to fend off, which isn’t something that can be said too often about the tunes written by Burrows’ former paymaster. As many students discover two-thirds of the way through a degree, though, what was once an appealing challenge can end up being a valuable lesson in just what it is you don’t want to do. And what Burrows learned during his time with Razorlight is that penning pompous, posturing songs that are so patently false they could fill Katie Price’s bra isn’t going to provide much job satisfaction for a burgeoning songwriter with a beating, empathetic heart.

This album is such a welcome surprise, in fact, that it’s curious to think that ‘Sun Comes Up Again’ might never have been noticed or released at all had Razorlight not ditched original drummer Christian Smith-Pancorvo for the sin of managing his strict superfood diet at the expense
of recording his drum parts, or so said Borrell. If Burrows gifted Razorlight two of their biggest hits (in ‘America’ and ‘Before I Fall To Pieces’), what his former band gave him in return was the platform to bring something far more interesting into the light of day. Welcome the new dawn.

Chris Parkin

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Click here to get your copy of I Am Arrows’ ‘Sun Comes Up Again’ from the Rough Trade shop.