Earthquakes. Hurricanes. A discarded chessboard. Handwritten lyrics. A gaggle of pro-Kyoto Treaty banner wavers. A shelf-full of awards, including a brass Brat finger. A rehearsal studio slowly morphing from a trendily vacant shell into a clutter-strewn home. Floodwaters decimating New Orleans. One ragged’n’ravenous rock’n’roll band photographed beneath the Brooklyn Bridge peering over their shoulders at the New York skyline, presumably thinking ‘nice country, we’ll take it’.
Beamed above Aberdeen’s braying crowd – triumph, ambition, devastation and despair – snapshots from the past two years of Razorlight’s British Invasion and American Alienation. Tactfully avoiding any shots of Luke Pritchard being anally invaded by the controller of Radio One, the screen blip-flashes out images from the CCTV camera inside Johnny Borrell’s head while, down an invisible string of thought bubbles to the stage, J.Bo himself sprays his scrawny soul at the rafters emblazoned all in white – part-angel, part-Messiah, part walking Daz Challenge. The intent is clear: the bigger and more impersonal the out-of-town shed, the smaller and more inclusive Razorlight will make it feel. You could be rammed against the merch stall with your face in a squaddie’s arse-crack tonight, but you’ve still one eye on the microscope to the cares and concerns of Borrell’s deepest psyche. This is soul-baring, stadium style.
And thus it is with uncharacteristic humility that Razorlight graduate into the ‘Hello Wem-ber-leeee!’ set some way ahead of their Killersabian Ferdihard-Fi peers. If playing two nights at Alexandra Palace with only one album and a chart high of Number Nine under their belts in 2004 seemed the ultimate in cocky arrogance, now they embark on their first UK arena tour with that snotty leap of faith utterly justified – Number One album and single, appearances on the Late Show With David Letterman and tabloid gossip spreads usually earmarked for Pete’n’Kate’s next sloppy snog (“WILDMAN JOHNNY IN £17,000 BOOZE BLITZ!”: Daily Star, tomorrow); their status as the grown-up, junkie-free, granny-friendly grot’n’rollers your estate agent can hum along to at the wheel of his Toyota is firmly secured. If they prompt suspicion from the Whitechapel die-hards for being slightly too sanitised to be ‘true’ – their grime-encrusted fingernails too immaculately clipped, their teenage heroin addictions too neatly cured – the truth is that when it comes to mass crossover success, you just haven’t earned it yet, Babyshambles.
Razorlight are the one-time urchins we can bet our house on to actually turn up and do the business. Or at least they were. Tales filling red-tops of boozed-up fisticuffs between singer and drummer in a Camden boozer may be a tame turn compared to Doherty’s drug and violence shame Olympics, but it’s been enough to affix a tiny question mark to the band’s future and cause Mercury shareholders to choke on their ram’s blood at the thought of losing their calf with the golden touch. Well, tonight, at least such tension and trauma have been put aside with both ‘Basher’ Borrell and ‘Big Fists’ Burrows doing their bit to prove Razorlight a scintillating and accomplished arena act striding into the Big League with confidence and maturity.
It goes like this: two Top 10 hits (‘In The Morning’, ‘Somewhere Else’) bookend 80 minutes of shoulda-been or actually-were Number Ones and the compulsory solo acoustic segment required by law under the Arena Gig Encore Act of 1973 (‘Fall, Fall, Fall’). Much has been made of the AOR bent of recent Razorlight material – the Talking Heads funk-pop lollops of ‘In The Morning’ and ‘America’; the ‘Bat Out Of Holloway’ bombast of ‘Somewhere Else’; the boogie-woogie Springsteenisms of anti-romance anthem ‘Who Needs Love?’. But bung these songs in an airport hanger and get a scruffy indie whippet in a tramp’s vest to sing them and you have the sound of urch rock bursting out of its pauper’s threads and really making something of itself. So ‘Vice’ suddenly sounds like the Berlin Wall Of Sound being kicked to rubble by a mob of overjoyed Violent Femmes fans, ‘Hold On’ bounces along like Dexys pumping weights and ‘Before I Fall To Pieces’ imagines U2 covering ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ at Red Rocks.
But the key to Razorlight’s brilliance is in ‘Los Angeles Waltz’. While The Killers are trying to lure their homeland to the cash tills with desert-rock compliments, what appears to be Razorlight’s waltzing curtsey to the US is accompanied by pictures of environmental disasters, anti-Bush protests and visions of California crumbling into the sea. No fawning Yankophiles, Razorlight – they are coming, America, as wolves in Blunt’s clothing; shrouded in drivetime-friendly rock tuneage, but broiling inside with Machiavellian mischief.“Oo-woo darlin’!/Who needs a God?” Borrell shoo-wops casually at one point, fully knowing they’ll be bellowing along in the Salt Lake City Megadome within the year. Suck on them chips, Dylan.