James Morrison, Koko, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

James Morrison has been compared with everyone from Ray LaMontagne to Otis Redding over the past six months, during which he has become one of the UK's biggest pop stars. His debut album, Undiscovered, went straight to No 1 on its release last August, and has now sold more than a million copies. His first single, "You Give Me Something", was omnipresent on the airwaves at the tail-end of the summer, and became the "You're Beautiful" of 2006.

The 21-year-old former busker from Rugby came packaged as the blue-collar antithesis of plummy, universally loathed James Blunt. He was the little guy, whose ostensibly superlative voice and raw songwriting talent had survived a distressing upbringing in grinding poverty and a job cleaning vans in Derby. Here was a home-grown, blue-eyed soul boy who had grown up listening to Cat Stevens, the Kinks and Ray Charles, dreaming of that one shot at the big time.

It shouldn't be so shocking, then, to find that in the live arena, Morrison resembles nothing less than a young Bruce Springsteen. It's all there: the splotchy beard, curls, open shirt, spread legs, pained grimaces. It's there in the power-sanded larynx, the guitar-slinging and the declamatory bluster, too. But it's not there in an ability to stir the emotions. Rugby isn't Freehold, New Jersey, after all.

First, there's the songs, which purport to draw on painful personal experiences - an alcoholic father, an absent mother, says the blurb - but whose bizarre lack of specificity empties them of any real meaning or interest. "This is probably the most personal song I've written," he says, worryingly, introducing "This Boy". "I'm scared / Of all this emotion / For years I've been holding it down," he sings, without conviction.

The engagement with an oddly listless crowd is no more persuasive. "You're lovely, you must have had a good Christmas - or something," he offers, after a perfunctory cover of "First Cut Is the Deepest". "Hello, Capetown," would have been more apposite: the lack of an individual connection with the audience is startling. As is the smug professionalism of his band, whose lumpen, wedding-reception plod-rock makes the Stereophonics sound like Arcade Fire.

There are occasional flashes. "How Come", like all of Undiscovered, was tooled by a crack team, and is a slice of soul-pop that sounds more natural for being less confessional.

Morrison's record company would like us to think he's some kind of underdog bard, but he's not fit to wear the Boss's headband.

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