Paolo Nutini, Royal Albert Hall, gig review
Mildly intriguing and original, but Nutini can’t light a night up
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Thursday 27 March 2014
It’s typically good-hearted of Paolo Nutini to make his first major gig since 2012 one of Roger Daltrey’s annual, Teenage Cancer Trust-benefiting run of Albert Hall shows.
The 27-year-old Scot has a third album, Caustic Love, imminent too, of course, but he could have launched it at a much bigger place than this. He has been one of Britain’s biggest solo stars ever since his first LP, These Streets, being seen as a safe and popular pair of hands on bills from Live Earth to Led Zeppelin’s reunion.
Nutini has two iron-clad attributes. There’s the pure, strong voice with a crack in just the right place, drawing hugely on Otis Redding’s Southern soul tradition.
Equally crucial are his open, youthful good looks, wedded to an impression of being a good guy who’s puppyishly pleased to perform for us. There’s enough sex and sensuality in his reasonably interesting songs to make women want to do more than mother him. What’s lacking is originality, or the sort of thrustingly potent personality with which Van Morrison developed Otis’s tradition.
Nutini has a brass section and backing vocalists with him tonight. But fronting a band with all the musical elements he needs, loose-limbed and likeable with his cliff-edge of curly hair, happily singing his heart out, there’s no spark of real excitement. He never sounds transported, or likely to take us anywhere we don’t expect. Singing nicely and being nice shouldn’t really be enough.
When he sings, “I’ve got a nice guitar/and tires on my car” on old favourite “Pencil Full of Lead”, it does remind you of the nice turns of phrase he’s capable of in his lightly personalised, singer-songwriter take on soul music. Amongst the many new songs tonight, “Better Man” is a memo to himself to, Nutini says, not be such an “eejit”. Another Caustic Love tune, “Looking for Something”, is perhaps the most personal, warmly dedicated to “my mother, who’s there above”.
Daltrey, who’s already played an opening set with Wilko Johnson, duets on “Cherry Blossom”, Nutini bowing to him in joking but genuine humility. The Scot’s voice then goes impressively high on “No Other Way”, as the brass takes us away from Otis’s Southern soul, back to the early 1960s black pop of Ben E. King. You can almost hear the ragged ghost of “Stand By Me” as he sings.
He tries a well-meaning if vague wider perspective on “Iron Sky”, declaring, “Liberty will never perish.” The footage behind him of Chaplin playing with a giant globe in The Great Dictator is the most graceful sight of the night. Nutini gives a happy little spin himself when he returns for the encore, strumming a guitar in his troubadour mode. He finishes with his biggest hit, “Last Request”, in which he wants farewell sex from a girl as they split up. Like its writer it’s mildly intriguing and original, well-made and well-meant.
But Nutini can’t light a night up.
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