Critic's View: The Brit Awards, O2 Arena, London

It was crying out for Cocker, Ross... even Gervais

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The Independent Culture

There used to be a time when things happened at the Brits. Things not scheduled down to the last second. Unexpected things. Tipsy behaviour. Jokes, even. Occasionally, there was even a surprise amongst the award-winners.

All, clearly, now just a distant memory, last night's show being perhaps the dreariest two hours that TV viewers have sat through in decades. First, and most damning of all, it was possible to predict with unerring certainty every single one of the night's award-winners: of course Adele was going to win Best British Female and Album Of The Year; of course Ed Sheeran was going to win Best British Male, and Rihanna and Bruno Mars the International equivalents. They were present: a pretty reliable indication.

But the opening song by Coldplay really set the tone for the whole event. It doesn't matter how many fireworks and flashing lights you have, if your song is that colourless. It was the first of a series of dispiriting performances. Florence brought along her Machine, but like Coldplay, forgot to pack a decent tune with them. Noel Gallagher, never the most animated of performers at the best of times, seemed to have turned to stone. Rihanna was more entertaining, emerging from within a paint-smeared transparent box which resembled a Damien Hirst piece whose poorly-pickled contents had gone off and burst. And Adele behaved with uncharacteristic dignity at her coronation, delivering a potent "Rolling In The Deep" that shamed all-comers except ginger folkie Ed Sheeran, who showed there was still no substitute for a decent song.

As MC, James Corden, it's clear, is no Jonathan Ross, and certainly no Ricky Gervais. It would have helped if he had a script containing a few gags, but the big mistake was having him deliver his links from down amongst the record-company folk, the collective noun for which is a smug of suits. Just about the only amusing moments came when the occasional stray suit strolled in front of him mid-link. It's hardly Jarvis Cocker insulting Michael Jackson, I know, but it was all we had. Instead of thinking up jokes for Corden, the writers clearly spent most of their time accumulating meaningless trivia for the voice-overs – Ed Sheeran's eight million YouTube views, Coldplay's 55 million sales, Adele selling an album every six and a half seconds last year and Bruno Mars being at least nine inches tall – six without his impressively cantilevered quiff.

A brief moment of suspense came late on, as George Michael arrived to give an award to Adele. Would he be able to negotiate the walkway without crashing into something? It was touch and go, but he made it. Then just as Adele was starting out on her speech, up jumped Corden to cut her off in mid-sentence so that Blur could fit in their three-song set before the show ended. Which, to be fair, was the first time a soupçon of actual rock'n'roll spirit was allowed to sully an oppressively neat and tidy affair. Final meaningless trivia: there were zero spontaneous occurrences all night.