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Album Review: Razorlight's unexpected return

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, January 11, 2019  /  09:09 am
Album Review: Razorlight's unexpected return

Olympus Sleeping by Razorlight (Razorlight/File)

Of the many bands that rose out of the early 2000 garage rock revival scene, Britain’s Razorlight seemed one of the least likely to make a comeback.

Not that it wasn’t good, but the Johnny Borrell-led group seemed so embedded in that era, everything from the stylish-scruffiness of members’ looks and the crunchy garage rock scream early-mid 2000s.

Even Borrell’s tabloid-adored rock ’n roll abrasiveness — the confrontational NME-ready quotes, the dirt-cool snobbery, the drunken high indulgence, the celebrity girlfriend — feels as such. For proof, witness Borrell’s most famous quote: “Dylan’s making chips and I’m drinking champagne.”

But here they are. Olympus Sleeping comes 10 years after Slipway Fires, the band’s 2008 album, and it is a pretty fine record. Not great, but better than cynics may allow.

This is the first album with the “new” Razorlight. The band announced a new line up in 2011, after all the original members left and officially played its first show then, and this album features an even newer lineup. Despite this, do not expect a reinvention here.

Melodic rockers of various tempo with flourishes of wit, humor and attitude — all of this is delivered with leather-jacket conviction.

Borrell spits out his words upon solid rhythms that mostly lunges forward without much concern for momentum-building.

Everything sounds and feels crisp, and the instruments communicate with a looseness that sounds right at home in 2004. Even when Borrell and his band do get introspective, the songs still evoke celebratory excess that would sound nice coming out any speakers.

As part of that package however, Olympus Sleeping means it also has all the same elements that made those early Razorlight records “okay” but never necessarily compelling.

Comparisons are rarely not lame, but one will be made between the era’s mid-tier bands such as Razorlight and scene purveyors such as The Strokes, Interpol or fellow Brit garage-rockers Arctic Monkeys.

Razorlight, past and present, treads the familiar elements of 2000s garage rock without bringing anything particularly unique to it, save for Borrell’s vocals.

As such, Olympus Sleeping sounds like very Razorlight-circa-2004 in its treading of “classic” alternative points-of-reference. It is still a pastiche of American vintage rock and Brit-pop catchiness. This means there’s that scratchy-guitar blanket going aflutter everywhere, dripping with simple melodies and straightforward arrangements.

Despite Borrell’s seemingly crafted bad-boy persona, his sense of delivery and melodies always leaned heavily toward obvious pop than the abovementioned bands. This ostensibly leaves the songs without much depth beyond their melodic surface, strangling out that sense of mystery that bands like Interpol or The Horrors had or at least tried to convey. There’s not much beyond Razorlight’s pretty-catchy garage rockers.

That makes it seem like Olympus Sleeping is drudgery, which is not fair.

Tracks like opener “Got to Let the Good Times Back into Your Life” hop with fervor and instantaneous arrangements, even a sure-fire chorus. Similarly, “Razorchild” delivers with quasi-disco beats that were so-prevalent 10 years ago and funky-to-crunchy guitars that seems very excited to be making sound.

“Japanrock” is all fuzzy guitar rhythms and distorted vocals and drives ahead with vigor, while “Sorry” builds itself upon an 1980s pop beat and raspy guitar overdrives. “Midsummer Girl” even has some pseudo-ska assigned to it, resulting in something that sounds like early Strokes meets The Police meets Rick Springfield.

Borrell and his bandmates — drummer David Sullivan Kaplan, guitarist David Ellis, bassist Harry Deacon — bash out these songs solidly but without much swagger.

Maybe it is an unfair, but these songs suffer from feeling outdated.

Bands from the era from whence Razorlight rose perhaps were the last ones with the opportunity to take elements of 1960s and 1970s garage rock pop and create their own beast. Back then, Razorlight already sounded like a lighter version of the best revivalists, and now, it just feels out-of-touch and out-of-time.

There is too little to grab onto, resulting in a record that doesn’t compel much listening. At least the band has some sense of self-awareness about it all, starting off the record with a skit in which musician Adam Green asks a genie for a Razorlight album that “doesn’t suck”.

A solid party record with an outdated sound may not sound like much, but at this point, it commands a distinction of “good enough”. Surely, no one was expecting Razorlight to come back and be “more” than it was a decade ago. “It doesn’t suck” is pretty spot-on.