Album review: Johnny Borrell, Borrell 1 (Stiff Records/Virgin EMI)

Album of the week: Borrell's back but that razor-sharp rock'n'roll is missing

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The Independent Culture

With Razorlight, Johnny Borrell spent around half a decade assiduously playing a caricature rock star blessed with a modicum of musical talent but enough self-belief, attitude and wastrel good looks to carry a mediocre band around the world's arenas for a while. It all ended badly, as well it might when singer and bandmates become almost comically estranged – the star at one point reportedly departing a festival by helicopter while the poor bloody infantry took the bus.

Five years on from the original band's patchy Slipway Fires swansong, Borrell now re-emerges as a solo artiste with a new backing band, Zazou, and, it seems, an almost pathological desire not to play anything that might be comparable to his previous output.

Perhaps reflecting his time spent in France, the sound of Borrell 1 features lots of rinky-tink piano, languid saxophone, and precious little guitar at all. It's more redolent of chanson, a sort of Latin-skiffle flavour, MOR and even music hall than actual rock'n'roll, with hammered piano triplets carrying the single “Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina)” and the antique R&B croon of “Cannot Overthrow”.

Originally recorded on a home four-track machine, the songs were subsequently re-done with Trevor Horn at the helm, which has applied a little polish to what still sound like under-written sketches rather than compelling pop material. As Borrell himself sings in the concluding “Erotic Letter”, “I heard some words and music, but it didn't sound much like a song”.

At the other end of the album, his mannered delivery of the feminist anthem “Power to the Woman” recalls Cockney Rebel, and there's a mild “Wild Horses” vibe about the piano and acoustic guitar of “Ladder to Your Bed” – though the falsetto doubling of parts of Borrell's vocal is off-putting. But the tack-piano and rolling percussion groove of “Cyrano Masochiste” imbue a rollicking charm that almost compensates for its ghastly title.

Otherwise, it's slim pickings, leading one to suspect the new-look Razorlight may be back in the studio rather earlier than expected.

Download: Cannot Overthrow; Ladder to Your Bed; Cyrano Masochiste