Katie Melua, Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Advertising is a wonderful thing - or at least it is if you're Katie Melua.

Advertising is a wonderful thing - or at least it is if you're Katie Melua. Even those who are unaware of her limited canon of work will be able to form a fairly accurate impression of what her music is all about with just a glance at some of her elegant press shots. For everything that Melua puts her face or, indeed, that silky-smooth voice to is perfumed with a sense of dignity. This is not pop music: it's for a far more sophisticated palate than that.

But no matter how much spin is afforded the girl, there's one thing that no amount of styling will win her: a sense of history. Like many other contemporary female singers trading on a nebulous combination of image and undeniable vocal ability, Melua patrols the periphery between the worlds of jazz and soul, with a little blues thrown in for good measure. These are very good hooks to hang her coat on, but the greats, such as Nina Simone or John Lee Hooker, had something that can't be bought: the sting of elegia, of someone else's history told resonantly in song.

While of course Melua has her own history, being born in Russia, raised in Belfast and finally in England, she is, in essence, just a white kid singing the blues. This is not in any way meant to diminish her talent, but it often seems that the hard-worn effect her songs strive for is beyond such a youthful personality. Not to mention the fact that most of her band are well into their forties at least, which makes you a little suspicious of the dusky, tie-dye-skirted pixie's position as their leader.

All of which, then, means that songs such as the Iraq War-inspired "Spider's Web" ("a bit political", she tells us, almost apologetically) and "Belfast" (which admirably attempts to romanticise the city, rather than to wring hands about it) forfeit a good deal of their intended mature edge.

Elsewhere, "My Aphrodisiac is You" rewrites "I Get a Kick Out of You" with neither the same sexiness or lustful vigour. The transsexual family comedy "In Jack's Room", on the other hand, is strangely fun, while her version of Squeeze's "Love Cats" is passable. It's perhaps more of a scamper than the original joyful roar, but the small gap between ambition and execution is forgivable.

The biggest polite applause-ripple of the evening, of course, came for her pleasant but forgettable hit "Closest Thing to Crazy". Its best use is as exposition of the 20-year-old's inescapable lack of storytelling perspective - "feeling 22" and "acting 17", after all, are not a dissimilar experience for most of us fogeys.

It's strange, then, that the closing versions of "Put a Spell on You" and Eva Cassidy's "Anniversary Song" hint at her yet-to-be-proven potential. Spotlessly arranged and effortlessly sung, they still trade unashamedly on a past that Melua just hasn't earnt yet.

Comments