The Rakes: King’s College, London; Tues Feb 6

Gritty laments on real life lose some of their edge in the comfort zone

It’s the hungriest rodent that’s the most industrious. Lab experiments on squirrels have proved that, if you starve one for two days it will perform a series of intricate puzzle-solving tests and acrobatic manoeuvres to reach a solitary nut. Lay on a banquet of nut-based treats right there by its nest, though, and it’ll fashion itself a tiny squirrel bean bag, spark up a bifter and tell you to go shove your intricate puzzle-solving tests up your arse. Conclusion: necessity breeds invention, gluttony breeds complacency. Scientists have called this phenomenon The ‘Be Here Now’ Effect.

And as with rodent, so with Rakes. When they were desperate, lean-bellied wage slaves, hungry for a buck, a bang and a break they made one of the classic Real Life pop debut albums of our time: a record gnashing and jabbering with city job salary-grasping and Binge Drink Britain belligerence. Unfortunately, life’s somewwhat better now, and so they’ve knocked out a second album – ‘Ten New Messages’ – that sounds like something a reasonably successful, well-liked, regularly shagged indie band would make.

As Alan Donohoe saunters silently onstage with a sweater draped over his shoulders, tonight’s tiny warm-up show feels cosy yet impersonal. Gone (largely) are the rabid arm and head spasms known on the nation’s dancefloors as ‘Doing The Alan’, replaced with a louche demeanour and lack of speed-freaky, between-song chipmunk impressions. Alan’s voice, once a high-wire whine of feverish desperation, is now unhurried and assured. So while there are classic Rakes melodies lurking at the roots of ace new tracks such as ‘The World Was A Mess…’ (‘Open Books’ with a VIP pass to White Heat) and ‘We Danced Together’, they seem muted and drowsy when slotted between the likes of ‘Retreat’ or ‘Animals’ – songs that would sound pulse-pumpingly visceral if they were played by Radiohead in a coma. And when they descend into the plodding, half-written funky-indie-by-numbers of ‘Down With Moonlight’ or ‘When Tom Cruise Cries’ (the drudgery of being put on hold by a bank effortlessly captured in song), you start to think the unthinkable – The Rakes have turned (gasp!) average.

And it is unthinkable. For they are The Rakes, and The Rakes, by nature, neck pints of frothing punk spirit and puke pop passion over the kebab-splattered minicab of rock, right? Right, and by the time a wired ‘Terror’ barrels into ‘22 Grand Job’ all is vibrant once more. And now the new tracks fit seamlessly; ‘Little Superstitions’ unfolds like ‘Work, Work, Work…’ in a bubble bath; while new album highlight ‘Suspicious Eyes’ finds them joined by Asian rapper Raxstar for an incisive dissection of 7/7 paranoia (“You act like you ain’t never seen a brown person before… I’m off at the next stop mate/Just keep staring”); proof that The Rakes’ eye for social comment is still keen and their tune compass, although somewhat dented, is still accurate.

Final blasts through ‘Open Book’ and ‘Strasbourg’ save the day, and we leave with our hearts bouncing, but our devotion slightly bruised. Some bands need a holiday in the Bahamas between albums, some need a stint in The Priory – The Rakes, on this evidence, need to ditch the Proud Gallery for the Wetherspoons and smuggle themselves back on to a Restart course for six months.

Mark Beaumont