So, it’s been a month since the much-maligned Johnny Borrell returned to our airwaves. Razorlight were never a particularly cool band to listen to, but for mid-noughties ‘indie’ lovers like myself, they’re a nostalgic throwback to a simpler, better time when the only blogging I needed to worry about was on Piczo – the ultimate decision being a choice over which one of my mates to dedicate the main page of my ‘site’ to. We waved goodbye to Piczo for good in 2015, after all it could never again reach the dizzy heights of its heyday in the mid-noughties, but for Borrell, a chance to turn the clocks back to 2004 has come along.
I stress Borrell, because, well, he’s the only member of the original line-up left. After a largely anonymous solo career, he’s gone and got the band back together, or rather, he’s gone and got a band together. Their fourth album, Olympus Sleeping, has been a long (or not long enough for their detractors) ten years in the making. But have they returned with a “Golden Touch” that Borrell once perfected on Up All Night over 14 years ago? (Yes, it really is 14 years since a 10-year-old me wanted to be “Somewhere Else” other than primary school!)
The album’s release was a bit like Dominic Raab’s stint as Brexit Secretary – blink and you’ll have completely missed it. I mean, it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page yet! And as I said, it’s been a month! That’s a stark contrast from the five-times platinum, single-heavy, chart-topper that was their eponymous second album. Even the ridiculed third record Slipway Fires (which I actually think is their best piece musically, but I am a deluded fanboy so take that with several handfuls of salt) warranted ten lines of text in Wikipedia’s infinite corner of the internet. Theresa May will be looking in envy at Razorlight’s ability to release a project so inconspicuously right now.
But I can confirm that the once-indie-heavyweights are back and they’re as ‘indie’ as ever. This description of Borrell’s oeuvre once made him wince, he even admitted to single-handedly (in an all-too-familiar, self-indulgent manner) ruining the genre forever, but he appears to have unashamedly and unapologetically embraced it this time around. And it absolutely delivers. He has never had a smartphone and doesn’t use social media, so considers himself to have been living in a cultural vacuum. Perhaps this is why he’s returned to ‘indie’ music so effortlessly and effectively?
“Well you would say that!” I hear you moan. Well, yes, I would. BUT. This new and improved Razorlight, Razorlight 2.0 if you will, sound tighter than ever. Borrell’s ability to craft a catchy, festival-friendly riff has not waivered one iota and the sing-to-your-heart’s content choruses will keep fans “Up All Night” (and in a good way). One of the reasons people disliked Borrell so much beforehand was because of his arrogance and famed inability to laugh at himself. But here on the opening track “Got To Let The Good Times Back Into Your Life” the very first line we hear in its intro is: “Genie, this is Aladdin. Print me a Razorlight album that doesn’t totally suck!” A subtle middle finger to his critics or just good old British self-deprecation at its finest? Either way, you’ve got to admit it is kind of funny . . . for Borrell.
Lead single “Carry Yourself” and title track “Olympus Sleeping” are both about as ‘Razorlight’ as you could imagine and would slot in neatly between other crowd favourites like “In The Morning” and “Hostage Of Love” on ‘The Other Stage’ at Glastonbury. Without meaning to discredit the rest of the band, because they more than carry their weight, this feels like Borrell’s shot at redemption. It’s his self-declared “love-letter to the genre” and, as a long-time fan, I’m feeling the love. The album’s most poignant moment comes in the shape of “Iceman” when he sings, “Yeah I sing to no-one . . . I only wanna talk to you,” which feels as if he’s reaching out to his devoted followers. Or perhaps it was his foresight of the commercial success of the album? There’s even the clichéd secret track at the end of “City Of Women”, which for the life of me I cannot find a name for anywhere, in which he humorously suggests that “If this song was by the Beatles, they’d give it to Ringo to sing” due to the simplicity of the lyrics and repetitive nature of the melody. This truly is Johnny Borrell like we have never seen him before.
I will admit, that the album is by no means ground-breaking and it may be a little out of step with the current ‘indie’ zeitgeist. But isn’t the whole point of the genre to try and stand out in an overly monotonous music market? Razorlight may not have stirred the Ancient Greek gods from their slumber with Olympus Sleeping, but they have certainly awoken the teenager in anyone who cares to listen.
Check out new single "Carry Yourself" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfCIQ-YKKS4