Racine, Islington Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

It was always hard to take Wendy James seriously, but even so her reinvention after a decade in the pop wilderness is hilarious.

It was always hard to take Wendy James seriously, but even so her reinvention after a decade in the pop wilderness is hilarious. You may remember her as the peroxide poppet from Transvision Vamp, the cartoon-like Blondie-lite whose handful of hits in the late Eighties and early Nineties was a guilty pleasure at a time when Glen Medeiros topped the charts.

So ephemeral were their 15 minutes of fame that they have since been written out of most pop reference books. It's not really fair on someone as skilled at self-publicity as James, who confidently predicted that she would one day be bigger than Madonna and win an Oscar. She was making assertive proclamations of girl power back when the Spice Girls were but a twinkle in Simon Fuller's business plan, and, as male readers will surely recall, combined her feminist views with a penchant for performing in trashy lingerie.

Of course, it couldn't last, and in 1993 Transvision Vamp broke up, leaving James, who had depended on her guitarist boyfriend for songwriting, to disappear after a solo album written for her by Elvis Costello.

Now, at the age of 38, with a new home in New York and both lofty ambitions unfulfilled, she's back. But she's not called Wendy James any more. Which is why we are in an Islington bar, with the last loyal fans of Transvision Vamp (you can spot them by the wilting mohicans and bedraggled extensions) waiting for the much-delayed UK debut of Racine.

Yes, Wendy has reinvented herself, with a new look, a new sound, a new band and even a new name. And, of course, it's all fantastically fake, from her peroxide hair down. The name may not allude to the 17th-century French playwright, judging by her pronunciation - "Ray-seen". The style is 1950s twin-sets from Marc Jacobs - Debbie Harry goes to bingo. And her hilarious description of the music is "Godard rock", in homage to the film director Jean-Luc. Or "John-Paul", as she calls him on her website - possibly confusing him with the late Pope.

So what exactly is Godard rock? A slight variation on the Vamp formula of retro-glam punk apparently. On record, it's all toy-town electronics and anaemic guitars, while James sings in a breathy little-girl voice in a vain attempt to disguise the absence of anything resembling a tune now that she writes the songs herself. Live, it's transformed into primitive garage-rock. Dressed down in a sweatshirt and what looks like her school-uniform skirt, she begins with "The Last American Hero", reciting a Tom Wolfe story over a rhythm courtesy of her new band, the guitarist Singh Birdsong (really!) and the drummer Ray Sullivan.

The rest is three-chord thrashing mixed with hints of funk, with sloganeering lyrics that mix New York street talk with a little light name-dropping - Beat poets, gonzo authors, movie stars. Most are as meaningless as their titles - "Grease Monkey", "Heavy Metal Dude" and "Blonde Mink Mimi" - apart from the horrific cod-reggae of "W.13th", which makes Ace of Base sound like Sly and Robbie.

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