Ron Pope, Koko, London


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The Independent Culture

“It is pretty simple, the words are like a nursery rhyme,” the enthusiastic singer encourages us, as he persuades ardent fans to join in with the night’s closing number.

Comparing his most successful tune to pre-school literature does Ron Pope a disservice, though, as ‘A Drop In The Ocean’ is more a teenage tale about fleeting romance.

This explains why it is so familiar to the 14+ audience. Since he first performed the ballad in 2008, it has been heard on TV dramas The Vampire Diaries and 90210, ensuring a wide listenership for a solo artist who after a brief flirtation with Universal Republic has remained resolutely independent.

Instead, Pope has depended on downloads and constant touring that sees him play his third London date in 12 months on the back of current album Atlanta,  billed as being his most adventurous yet.

Yet for much of the night, Pope and his five-piece band tease us with Lambchop-style openings where a guitar keens like a pedal steel before they return to the unremarkable pop-rock template well-used by Train.

Nothing, then, to distract from his synch-friendly emoting that regularly earns squeals of delight. With long, curly locks, Pope combines puppyish enthusiasm with over-wrought delivery, somewhere between Ed Sheeran and Owl City. Offering a safe route to escapism, he peppers his lyrics with references to lights on the highway and a cavalcade of destinations, from LA to New York via Houston.

As the set progresses, clichés pile up: tears are cried, leaves drop and rain repeatedly fails to water the desert. For a while, the closest Pope’s group get to leftfield is the steady build-up of ‘Sweet Redemption’, uncannily similar to Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, while lacking the British group’s arena-filling, anthemic nous.

Two notable exceptions come with the darker strains of ‘Monster’, where the eerie pedal-steel effect at last runs through the whole number, and the seething, churning ‘October Trees’.  Elsewhere, there are snatches of rollicking, acoustic folk-rock as Pope swaps guitars before he sits behind an electric piano.

Whatever atmospheric changes he make to his backing are stymied by those vocals, pushed high in the mix, most embarrassingly when the band crowd round one mike for a game take on Tom Wait’s ‘Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)’, with the singer drowning out his bandmates’ contributions. He may want to mature as an artist, but not at the expense of keeping his hardcore supporters happy.