CD Review of Razorlight by Razorlight

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starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Universal/Motown
Released: 2006
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When Razorlight emerged as part of Britpop’s Class of 2004, alongside other up-and-comers as the Zutons, Bloc Party, the Delays, Dogs Die in Hot Cars, and Keane, they seemed like they had as much of a shot as their peers. They already had a lead over the Ordinary Boys just by getting their album released in the US, and they spent much of 2005 hobnobbing with the likes of Queen, the Who, and Oasis…but it never translated to anything in the States, and their debut album, Up All Night, failed to chart.

Keep a stiff upper lip, lads. Let’s try it again with this sophomore effort, then, shall we?

Avoiding the tendency of bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party to drift into more experimental sonic territory, Razorlight tends to favor straightforward pop/rock stylings…but, dammit, what’s wrong with that? Producer Chris Thomas has worked with plenty of folks who fall into that category – the Rolling Stones, the Pretenders, and INXS, just to name three – and he does well at putting a nice studio sheen on these ten tracks. Lead singer Johnny Borrell has a voice that makes him sound eerily like the lost brother of Neil and Tim Finn, particularly on the plinking “Who Needs Love?” “America” will no doubt suffer comparisons to U2 at their most bombastic – think The Joshua Tree – but its lovely melody makes it a highlight of the disc; it’s followed by “Before I Fall to Pieces,” which has a chorus that’s as bouncy and jangly as anything written by the Housemartins. “Kirby’s House” has a vaguely country feel to it, but it leads into “Back to the Start,” a song which begins by sounding like a Men at Work outtake before storming into a pounding chorus.

It’s not that the songs on Razorlight are all necessarily instantly memorable; it’s that they feel…comfortable. You might not be able to sing back the choruses after one listen, but after giving the record a few spins, you’ll find it’s ingratiated itself to you. The performances are tight, and Borrell’s voice is a powerful instrument in and of itself. The band entered the studio with a desire to put together an album of ten potential singles, and all things considered, they came pretty darned close to achieving that goal. Intentionally or otherwise, they also seemed to be trying to curry favor with folks in the States, with songs called “America” and “Los Angeles Waltz”…not that it did them a hell of a lot of good.

Sure, the album topped its predecessor by at least appearing on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums in its first week of release, but its debut at #180 was also its high water mark. But, then, kids today just can’t be bothered with a record that simultaneously looks forward and backwards, staying consistently catchy without ever getting caught in a stylistic rut. Why would they be interested in Razorlight?

~Will Harris