Arts: Pop: Level playing

MARK KING SHEPHERD'S BUSH EMPIRE LONDON

SOMETIMES IT seems that no pop music of the past remains permanently beyond the pale. Boy George and Culture Club are back in the charts, and those fellow Eighties clotheshorses Duran Duran and the Human League have recently toured successfully. But the rehabilitation of Mark King, former leader of the quietly huge Level 42, may prove to be more hopeful and welcome.

King's previous band represented the forgotten side of that benighted decade, a world of furry dice and soporific jazz-funk, sex in Sierras and white stilettos.

He was the Man with the Golden Thumb, a bass player so good that his hands were insured for a fortune - and he still trades on it. On his entrance he proffered his instrument to his loyal supporters, and his four-piece band kicked straight into Level 42's hit "Hot Water".

Remarkably, they sounded exactly as they used to, even down to the now- dated stabs on synth and superfluous virtuosity smeared all over what is at heart a simple pop song.

Unsurprisingly, the set was based around old favourites such as "Love Games" and "It's Over". But the negatives were the same as ever - trite lyrics, a tendency to show off to no great effect, and frantic pacing. Songs from King's new album One Man were simpler, but the ghastly "Changing the Guard", with its blustering chorus "Is this the end of the old guard?/ I wouldn't count on it", was a give-away; such self-justification is usually the sign of an artist painfully aware of his or her own irrelevance.

Of course, King is still a terrific bassist, his prodigious bottom end carrying "Lessons in Love", which frankly would have benefited from the absence of the other instruments.

Apparently The Fast Show's John Thomson was a huge Level 42 fan, but even in his guise as presenter of the spoof "Jazz Club" he would have been hard-put to say "Mm, n-i-c-e" about this reminder of a piece of pop history best forgotten.

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