Review Summary: Razorlight’s main strength is Johnny Borrell… Razorlight’s main weakness is Johnny Borrell.
Any British review of Razorlight’s 3 albums practically has to be taken with a grain of salt. Lead singer Johnny Borrell must have either picked a fight with every English male or had sex with every English female if some reviews are on the mark. Thankfully, yours truly is a foreigner who has not been subjected to the infamous tabloids that apparently rank Borrell not too far below the likes of Winehouse, Doherty & Co. To this reviewer, Johnny Borrell is simply the lead singer of a moderately successful Indie-Rock band.
Hang on a tick; did Borrell just compare himself to Jesus Christ on track 2, the predominantly acoustic ‘Hostage Of Love’…??? Please judge for yourself with the following lyrical passage: “the truth of my story is widely unknown, words of derision I have swallowed with a smile, for telling my story I have been crucified”. Elsewhere, he also croons “I am salvation and your herald of sin”. Hmmm… Is he pretentious, self-indulgent and arrogant, or so over-the top that it somehow comes off as entertaining?
The thing is that Borrell can often be talented beyond his 28 years of age. Take for example, top 5 UK lead single ‘Wire To Wire’, which opens proceedings here on Razorlight’s 3rd full-length release ‘Slipway Fires’. Initially employing sparse piano, Borrell’s voice is enchantingly striking and thoroughly captivating. The interestingly structured cut then lifts into something rather epic as choral backing vocals are employed. It’s just a shame that the piece comes to a premature end at just a little over the 3 minute mark. Later, ‘Blood For Wild Blood’ shows almost identical traits throughout.
On too many occasions though, Borrell’s presence is so dominating that it is actually easy to forget that there are 3 other band members. By the by, is his spotlight shining brighter on the album cover, or did he just make the backing musicians wear black so he could stand out more? The musicianship here is so simple and sparse that it too often crosses the line into blandness. Melodies are the focus and while they will occasionally impress some (for example; the raw stripped-down 60’s-like acoustic ballad ’60 Thompson’), they are too few and far between.
The bottom line is that Borrell’s songwriting often lets him down… Especially when he is attempting to add some energy to proceedings. This can be either lyrically (the one-two punch of the glam-tinged ‘Tabloid Lover’ and ‘North London Trash’ suffer under the weight of clichéd lyrics such as “I’ve got a hot-bodied girlfriend & a wallet full of cash”) or musically (penultimate track ‘Monster Boots’ is a hollow attempt to use ineffective theatrics).
Razorlight work best here when attempting to revisit the indie roots of their debut LP on successive cuts ‘Stinger’ and ‘Burberry Blue Eyes’. The former is especially impressive in using its 4 minute plus duration to allow the cut to effectively build up steadily. Mention should also be made of closer, ‘The House’, which will take many (fans and non-fans) by surprise. Borrell sounds especially emotional and honest on this piano ballad which deals with a parental death and stays just on the correct side of the melodramatic boundaries, even if it tends to come off as a little too depressing.
On ‘Slipway Fires’, Razorlight aim for something in-between the indie-rock leanings of debut ‘Up All Night’ and the more expansively mainstream tilt of their self-titled follow-up. Unfortunately, by doing this, they fall in no-mans land and not much at all is done genuinely well. The result is basically similar to their self-titled release, but without the standouts. This is because the album is practically devoid of hooks, meaning it feels uninvolving and definitely unmemorable. It is a real shame too, as what was once a band with so much promise, is now just plain bland.
Thanks Rasputin. They actually started off half-decently, with their debut containing some good & accessible indie-rock cuts. But then super-stardom obviously beckoned and it was all downhill from there.
Great review man, nailed Razorlight/Borrell on the head with the 1st paragraph. I always sense that this band has the potential to make great music, but somehow always end caught up in the 'fame' and tabloids, worrying more about their persona (especially Borrell) and their antics than the music.
Thanks Auldy. Your comments are appreciated especially since I wasn't sure how well the opening 2 paragraphs would come off.
The strange thing is that I have personally never heard (first-hand) all about Borrell's shenanigans. In fact, the only time I have heard his name mentioned on tv, in print or whatever down under was in regards to his dating Kirsten Dunst at one stage.
But yeah, you can almost tell by his lyrics that he is a d!ck. He clearly has talent... The problem is that he knows it!
Good to see that you have given the album a listen & agreed on the rating with me too.
ha yeah. I only ever checked this band out because they were on an episode of the mighty boosh (Nannagedon). Come to think about it, I dont think I ever heard Razorlight played on radio here, at least not triple J, but I may have been unlucky and just missed them playin it.
Good point on the album cover how the spotlight seems brightest on Borrell, or that hes wearing white clothes. Makes you think about the importance and messages of album covers.
I think what made me first check them out was when they won a BRIT Award or three a few years back. The only song of theirs that I have heard played on radio down here is 'America'. Don't ask me what (type of radio) station it was though. And yes, it is a reather telling album cover in a way.
By the way, it's difficult to tell, but is that You Am I on your avatar...??? You may have to end up reviewing a few of their albums yourself!
Haha. Gee, does anyone like the poor ba$tard? Kane, I think what I said in the first paragraph about taking British reviews of Razorlight with a grain of salt may have applied if you had reviewed this. LOL.
AliW, you are correct that they have some good songs (especially on their debut). And I actually have that (paraphrased) quote in the intro to my review of their debut album which I will probably post on Monday'ish.
Ta for the positive votes guys.
Yeah DavID, I love 'Rip It Up' from their debut. I think that is a super under-rated track, of which there a few on 'Up All Night'. 'America' is also a song I really like, although it has it's haters since it is soooo clearly aimed at breaking the band into mainstream America.
I was actually going to mention something in my review, but I do not think it is at all an accident that their self-titled had 2 songs called 'America' & 'Los Angeles Waltz', while this has 'North London Trash' and another reference to England with 'Burberry Blue Eyes' (Burberry being a British fashion label). Of course, what it means is up for discussion, but I think the band realized that their 2nd album was a little too much aimed at America. Unfortunately, as you can tell from this review & rating, it did NOT help.
I'd love to say how it's not true what you said about the hating Johnny Borell here in England, but unfortunately, you're pretty much right. He's a complete *******, to be honest. But he certainly used to write good, or at least decent, music, and he doesn't even have that anymore.
I can't really find any flaws with this review... Although I've never heard anyone say that they hate Amy Winehouse?
Really? Everyone hates Amy Winehouse these days 'cept me.
Also, Champ, check out "The Frog Prince" by Keane, especially the lyrics which were written after Tom met Borrell one night and he was trashed.