Superlative talents like Paul Carrack. He replaced Jools Holland in Squeeze twice, has had spells with Roxy Music, Nicks Lowe and Cave, played sessions with The Smiths, and written songs for the Eagles. You'll know his beret, grey beard and shades from his time as singer for Mike Rutherford's Genesis off-shoot Mike + the Mechanics. But it's as a reliable professional hand in better bands' later days that Carrack has become a minor part of British rock's fabric.
Being a decent bloke and honest craftsman appeals to brilliant bands losing their touch, and to the middle-aged fans packing Ronnie Scott's. The venue's slickness and crystal acoustics these days suit Carrack solo. With an impressive band in black suits, he gives painstaking professional value, but you can leave without a hair out of place. Something is missing: the exposed soul you can't learn or find.
Tonight's support, his old Squeeze band-mate Chris Difford, showed a different talent: a shambling man with a cement-mixer voice, blessed with a sublime, confessional pop gift. Carrack's songs, even ones co-written by Difford, or the couple he placed on the last two Eagles albums (a windfall he says meant "a good deal on some new suits") are built on generalities and platitudes. "Love will keep us alive when we're hungry," was a case left untested when sung by the Eagles during their rapaciously greedy reunions.
There are gems by old friends. Nick Lowe's "I Live On A Battlefield" deals in genuinely stirred emotions, and it's a rare pleasure to hear Squeeze's "Tempted" sung by the man on the record. "I said to my reflection, get out of this place," Carrack sings in his light, conversational soul voice, letting a fine, desperate pop song unfold.
"We're thinking of doing a Mike + the Mechanics section," are words to make the blood run cold. But "Another Cup of Coffee" deals in convincing emotional crises in a Daily Mail reader's world. The pomp and circumstance of "Silent Running" drags immaculate saxophonist Steve Beighton into his instrument's crude 1980s hell, and Rutherford's limp response to his father's death, "The Living Years", induces stadium swaying. When his band's brass-blasted jazz-soul playing overrides other songs' limits, deeper pleasure arrives. Carrack, though, stays in the shallow end.