Craig David, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

In his latest attempt to regain kudos, Craig David has shaved off the carefully manicured facial hair that has long been part of his look – another step away from the Bo' Selecta! send-up that has bedevilled him.

It is part of a slick package – fronting a suited six-piece band – that, ultimately, lacks substance. It's a lacklustre route for the lad from a Southampton estate who brought UK garage to mainstream attention with "Rewind", an omission from tonight's set. Since then, the law of diminishing returns has applied as David has tried to cement his reputation and crack the States.

His appearance last year on rising star Kano's 'This Is The Girl' suggested he could claim the role of elder statesman to a new generation of UK talent, perhaps too uncomfortable a position for a 27-year-old. Instead, current album Trust Me sees him aiming for middle-of-the-road respectability with a more organic sound, replicated here by a talented group who look like they are having as much fun as the energetic solo star. The keyboardist pogos like a berserk punk, though the sound is a carefully modulated throwback to Eighties' wine-bar soul.

This uncomfortably mirrors David's own delivery. He continues to take on the US stars, Usher, especially, by drooling after the "honeys", while making reference to his relationship rationality. Take '6 Of 1 Thing', a number that apes the turbo soul of Amerie's '1 Thing' while clumsily shoehorning in such a wordy phrase. It is testament to David's vocal talent that he can fit all that into one line, yet the sentiment is hardly thrilling, especially when followed by his grin.

He proves he can rap, with an especially jaw-dropping example on a revamp of his enormous hit 'Fill Me In'. That, though, follows his peculiar approximation of Jamaica's equally clean-cut Sean Paul that closes the reggae-lite of 'She's On Fire'. Another exoticism to fall flat is the salsa touch of 'Don't Play With Our Love', subsumed into the evening's general yuppie vibe with David aping the glib tones of Alexander O'Neal. He comes across as especially awkward between songs, as with a tirade along the lines of, "we don't steal music in London, just a couple of cars now again[cue nervous laughter], but it's all love."

Tonight's only reminder of David's roots comes with the crisp rhythms of 'Fill Me In', deftly handled by the band. Of course he should be allowed to move on from the two-step days, but he has failed to find anything equally compelling. The further he has gone from his council-flat bedroom, the more flabby his lyrics have become, with 'Officially Yours' making a dedication of love sound like a hand-over of contracts.

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