Razorlight: Slipway Fires

[1 March 2009]

By David Smith

Razorlight’s career to date has been a pretty predictable affair. After the raucous, Libertines-esque garage rock of the debut Up All Night back in 2004, they moved on stylistically with the non-album single release of “Somewhere Else”—a stadium-begging song that hinted at Dire Straits, or Bruce Springsteen at his most overblown. And sure enough, with the 2006 self-titled sophomore set they sounded like Dire Straits covering the Strokes.

While Up All Night was the sound of pre-fame debauchery on a shoestring and Razorlight was a band coming to terms with the pressures of new-found fame and life on the road, Slipway Fires appears to document the transition from freshly crowned, stadium-bothering indie kings to elder statesmen of the new rock revolution. The North London scenesters return home with their film-star girlfriends to find themselves tired, burnt out, and older than their years.

And if anything, what Slipway Fires does is illustrate Razorlight’s desire to build on their post-“America” success by throwing the kitchen sink at each and every track. It plants intrigue in your mind from the beginning: “Wire to Wire”, an empty sentiment-heavy ballad and Top 5 UK single at the tail end of 2008, sees singer Johnny Borrell croon “Love me / Wherever you are”. Whereas the Borrell of old demanded that you liked him, worshipped him, or at least had an opinion on him, the hook of “Wire to Wire” actually now sounds more like a desperate plea.

It’s followed by “Hostage of Love”, which, whilst sharing a family resemblance with the second album’s highlight, “Before I Fall to Pieces”, shares none of its predecessor’s verve, drive, or visceral, honest appeal. To say it was the second single release from the album in the UK says a lot; there’s nothing in any of these eleven tracks that’ll ever match the effortless grandiosity of “America”, let alone better it.

And from there things just get silly. If “You and the Rest” was a colour, it undoubtedly would be grey—and it barely warrants a mention.  “Stinger” is so overblown that it’ll have listeners wondering “is there a tune buried in there somewhere? ” The answer: Hmmmm, maybe not. On “North London Trash” we’re fed just one of many Borrell-isms: “I’ve got a hot-bodied girlfriend / I’ve got a pocket full of cash”. Cocky? Yes. In Razorlight’s early days Borrell’s rent-a-gob cheekiness was reluctantly endearing. This is the guy who said of their debut album, “If you’re comparing debuts, Dylan’s making chips and I’m drinking champagne”—like a ruddy-faced, hyperactive child, if you like,  But now it’s just plain annoying. It’s as if Razorlight have grown into a grumpy teenager: prone to mood swings and blowing every situation way out of proportion.

But the album’s finest hour is possibly the track that closes it: “The House” may at first sound as strained and as overblown as anything else here, but for once the lyrics appear to lack any desire to impress or mean any more than they should. It’s a beautiful moment—but too little, too late.

The truth is, there’s nothing about Razorlight in 2009 that sets them apart as an outstanding rock outfit. Slipway Fires may maintain the general opinion that Borrell still hides himself in high regard, still revels in his own success, and can still deliver the odd lyric (intriguing and well-placed to some; arrogant and plain annoying to others) . Forget all the drive-time rock and it does have its moments. But despite the grand aspirations and the faux-profound statements peppered among these 11 tracks, Razorlight’s third album falls short of anything they’ve previously done.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/70346-razorlight-slipway-fires/