The odds on this happening were long to say the least. Tonight, The Bluetones – a band who, since the initial Britpop Big Bang, have been peripheral at best, irrelevant at worst – are fighting back.
Mark Morriss is certainly no longer the bleary-eyed, mop-haired cutesie of yore. Weaving and swerving across the stage in white collar shirt and tie, hair pared back, he looks leery, up for it. Almost impatient. The second of a two-night jaunt across the country, warming up for a Spanish festival appearance, it’s as if he’s relishing the easy-going, pressure-free atmosphere of these low-key gigs, while at the same time chafing at the bit to get out there and exhibit the new Bluetones sound.
Not that he’s cocky about debuting new songs. Indeed, he’s profusely apologetic about exposing the fans to a welter of unfamiliar material. Needlessly so, since the crowd want to hear the new stuff too, and the songs themselves are pretty fine. Perhaps Morriss‘ shirt and tie are emblematic of a more new wave bent to the ‘Tones’ muse, the new material certainly relies heavily on harmony-laden choruses, irresistible Day-Glo hooks, the odd synth crunch and a spry sense of big-hearted melodicism.
“This is a song currently masquerading under the title ‘Zorro’,” Morriss announces, as the band shuffle into a song dripping with their trademark mix of romance and realism. It’s followed by ‘Last Of The Great Navigators’, a gladdening heart-burst of power-pop gorgeousness with chords’n’choruses towering above.
It seems that they’re finally saying farewell to the ill-advised blues-rock conceit of 1998’s ‘Return To The Last Chance Saloon’, just as Gomez have somehow made ponchos and laughably adolescent facial hair hip again. It’s alright, though. The Bluetones have never been hip, they’ve never had to be. They’re aiming, instead, for that seam of pop perfection they hit upon with sublime singles like ‘If…’ or ‘Slight Return’. Not another fumble, then, just a pleasant reminder of what we’ve missed.