'We've lost our self-respect, we feel like a bunch of insects, but don't you worry buddy, here he comes..."
And here he comes. Cast across the alcoves and colonnades of the Brixton Academy through a smog - is it dry ice, or is it Marlboro? - Nick Cave's shadow looks murderous and macabre, like something from a children's puppet show of Richard III. This, you understand, will not be an accident.
The real thing, with his rodent nose and simian skull, resembles an off-duty pall bearer in his ill-fitting black suit and open-necked white shirt, and is barely less chilling an apparition. I reckon he could be Elvis if he'd survived the toilet incident and went on the Atkins. My girlfriend reckons he's like Alan Rickman blaspheming over Celtic folk.
Nick Cave never changes. Much. This occurs to me when I realise that this is the third time I've reviewed Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds in four years (er, sorry). Dedication is rewarding, if you have the temperament. Every song starts with a minor chord, but there are people here tonight - they mostly look as though they served their time in the Goth Wars (you can see it in the way they do their eyebrows, and their reluctance to wear any colour other than black) - who can identify which minor chord, and applaud wildly with recognition. But equally, you can drift away for a couple of albums and then pick up the thread. (And given Cave's intimidatingly prolific output of late - it's reached a rate of one album per year, and the latest one is a double - it's forgiveable.)
This is why, even though the first half of tonight's show is taken from Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, it doesn't feel unfamiliar or cold to the ear. The musical styles - somnolent C&W, wild rollicking rockabilly, gothic Sinatra ballads and maybe a little too much dusty spaghetti gospel - purveyed by the Bad Seedsare the same as they ever were.
As he moves further into his fifth decade, Cave continues to elide the division between the respectable poet and the wild animal. If there has been a perceptible shift, it's in the direction of humour. "Oh mama," he has his choir chanting mournfully, "oh mama..." before he delivers the pay-off rhyme, "what a bummer." On "God Is In The House", his wry depiction of a devoutly religious, deeply uneventful community ("we've painted all our kittens white, so we can see them in the night..."), he quietens the whole auditorium down with a stage whisper, then gets everyone to shout "Hallelujah!"
For the encores, they give in and wheel out the hits. "Red Right Hand" is as overwhelming as crashing thunder, then as quiet and restless as the ocean, "Deanna" (with its lines about 'Ku Klux furniture') is brutal bubblegum.
He ends, of course, with "The Mercy Seat", a song praised to the skies, and immortalised by Johnny Cash. Of all the songs written from the point of view of a convicted murderer about to be fried in the electric chair and comparing his plight to that of Christ on the cross, this is surely the finest.
How long before I mention curry? About three sentences, but I do have a point. If this isn't too crass a comparison, just as it's a truism that the food we eat in "Indian" restaurants is actually a British invention, bowdlerising real Indian recipes for the Western palate, the music coming from Asian artists like rapper/R&B crooner Jay Sean could only have arisen in the UK. The sound that young British Asians are making is what it is because it represents their listening habits: 50 per cent US/UK urban beats (Jay Sean routinely samples black artists like Stevie Wonder and The Pharcyde, and interpolates Luniz), 50 per cent the more traditional fare of Sunrise Radio (he's equally happy with Asha Bhosle samples). The fusion is utterly natural.
Sean's real name is Kamaljit Jhooti, and crass comparisons are something which Jhooti, a 23 year old former medical student from Hounslow, Punjabi by race and Sikh by religion, knows all about. His debut album, Me Against Myself, is filled with self-awareness: he knows what people are going to say about him, and he gets his retaliation in first.
Unfortunately, he often leaves himself wide open. For example, the opening skit features an ever-so-English record company guy instructing Jay to write about girls, and insisting that "people don't care about songs that are too conscious." For the rest of the album, guess what? Jay sings virtually nothing but songs about girls.
Not a crime in itself, of course. Jay Sean has a competent but unremarkable singing voice in the Nate Dogg/Craig David mould (of whom, more soon), and deploys it on innumerable mid-tempo R&B tunes, invariably produced by Rishi Rich, whose presence would be strong tonight even if he were not onstage behind the Korg. Rich is the rising star of Asian-Urban fusion, and it would be tempting to hail him as an Asian Pharrell or Dre, but the truth is he's probably more of a P Diddy: a smart cookie, without a doubt, but a businessman rather than a groundbreaker.
Nevertheless, Rich's production skills have been in demand: he's given an Asian-flavoured make-over to a dazzling array of mainstream artists: Westlife, Mis-Teeq, Britney, Madonna, J-Lo and Craig David (that name again). So the climate could not be more favourable for an artist like Jay Sean to cross over, and it's reflected in the crowd at the Scala: the female arms in the air, waving camera phones in the direction of Sean's fine features, are equally likely to be brown or white. And there's something very real, fresh and un-fakeable about the euphoria in the air when Rich tinkles out some Indian motif on the keys, the DJ drops the beats, and the whole place goes ballistic.
Once or twice, Sean actually does something to justify the fuss, like the scratching noises and, going one better than Timberlake, the human tabla-box sounds he adds to an improvised version of Kelis's "Milkshake". The rest of the time, when he reverts to loverman mode, it's harder to understand.
On the title track of his album, on which a hater - actually his alter ego - mocks him: ("What are you? Like a cross between Jay-Z and Sean Paul? You're better off with the name you was born... You little pansy, you really should have been called Gay Porn"), he complains about "Being pigeonholed and accused of imitating/It's a struggle and it's so frustrating/Telling me I'm trying to be the Asian Craig David".
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