Stereophonics, Hammersmith Apollo, London

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The Independent Culture

The Argentinian drummer Javier Weyler has successfully replaced Stuart Cable. Top off, he flailed away, grinning like an X--Factor winner. Richard Jones offered some entertaining poses with his bass.

All Jones the singer had to do to elicit screams from the excitable crowd was shed his leather jacket. In a rare flash of wit, he introduced "More Life in a Tramp's Vest" with a shaggy dog story about chatting up a girl he had served the same day at the greengrocers. Otherwise, it was heads-down graft. A shame, for Language. Sex. Violence. Other? deserved better.

Stereophonics have returned on a leaner chassis. Gone are the gospel singers and horn sections of 2003's tired dad-rock effort You Gotta Go There to Come Back. Instead, the trio carved out heavy riffs more at home with the Foo Fighters. They began with the album opener "Superman", a vehicle for Jones's startling falsetto, and closed with their first No 1, the vacuous "Dakota", which turned into a show-stealing anthem thanks to its sprightly rhythm.

More interesting was the raunchy "Pedalpusher"and the smouldering new single "Devil". In such company, Jones's saucy tales of valley life sparkled anew. He spat out "A Thousand Trees" as if the story of the teacher-pupil affair was written yesterday, while a thousand Jones wannabes pounced on an electric "The Bartender and the Thief".

Before you realised the front man was no Dylan Thomas ("Be my devil, angel"), they had already started a new one, though slower songs "Hurry Up and Wait" and "Rewind" plodded along as the band's inability to raise themselves from clunky rock basics left the trite lyrics exposed. The only respite came when Jones brought out his acoustic guitar for the Rod Stewart pastiche "Step on My Old Size Nines".

There was more colour above the stage, where images flashed by in hip, out-of-focus fashion, like the singer hinting at profundity that was never really there. Having said that, Language, maybe the Phonics' most empty-headed record yet, allows Jones to explore his lustful, instinctive side.

Yet Jones continued to maintain his salt-of-the-earth image, as if he was still playing a South Wales social club. The frontman may think he can't sing "Local Boy in the Photograph" unless his feet are on the ground, but it meant his new material failed to convince.