Johnny Borrell at Water Rats
Johnny Borrell’s solo career hasn’t exactly found the commercial success his currently on-hiatus band Razorlight did. Razorlight’s debut Up All Night reached number three on the UK album charts, whereas Borrell’s first solo effort sold a humiliating 594 copies in its first week and was panned by almost every right thinking critic.
After the release of their second album Razorlight headlined Reading Festival, and after the recent release of The Artificial Night EP, Borrell plays The Water Rats. After the fall he’s had, it wouldn’t be surprising if Borrell was lacking the confidence that once made him such hilarious tabloid fodder. But as he begins his set with We Cannot Overthrow, his trademark self-assuredness is obvious in his manner and his reliably decent vocals. It sounds pleasant enough but doesn’t build into anything particularly memorable or unique, and in that sense it’s not dissimilar to Razorlight’s career.
For a man who famously said “Bob Dylan’s making the chips, I’m drinking champagne”, it’s a little funny that Borrell seems to spend most of his set trying to impersonate The Bard. Obviously, his faux-soulful lyrics fall short of the beautiful, often wry poetry of Dylan’s, and nowhere is this more obvious than on second track of the set – Erotic Letter – the “romance” of which is neither disarming nor interesting.
Borrell recently stated that he has no time for the news but as busy as he apparently is, it becomes clear as the set plods on that one thing he has had the time to do is find a great band in Zazou. The ever-present saxophone occasionally veers into cheesy territory but generally it’s pretty charming, and on the almost gypsy-infused Cacambo’s March it really shines.
Forget the lyrics and the night isn’t all that bad. The set really picks up with enjoyable, though ultimately pastiche, songs like 60 Thompson and In the City. Say what you will about his arrogance, but there is, shockingly maybe, plenty to respect about Borrell. It’d be easy to relive former glories and play Razorlight songs but he doesn’t and, even if his solo work is underwhelming, it’s a bold move to not pander to his fans – one or two of whom obnoxiously request Golden Touch. He might be absurdly outspoken in interviews, but live he barely says a word and lets his music do the talking, which is again something to be respected in an artist who’s made a name for himself partly through his controversial comments.
One might imagine that Borrell would be frustrated with the size of the venue he now plays. On the contrary, he seems quite comfortable, happy even, playing in this intimate setting to a selection of fans who probably appreciate his talents more than all those screaming teenagers did at Reading after their first ever Heineken.
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Watch the video for Pan-European Super Model Song (Oh Gina!) here: