The Music, ICA, London

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The Independent Culture

"This is a song called 'Drugs'," frontman Robert Harvey announces to cheers from long-term fans, here to get their fix of post-Stone Roses danceable rock and mindless hedonism. Instead, they get a new number that is more equivocal. "You've got to give them what they want," Harvey snarls with surprising venom.

Since the damp squib that was their second album, 2004's Welcome to the North, Harvey has been through the mill more thoroughly than a sack of wool. On his blog, the driving force of the Leeds four-piece has hinted at alcohol dependency and anxiety attacks, and even suggested that The Music's performance on that record was substandard.

They first leapt out of Yorkshire as precocious teens in 2002, way ahead of their home county's boom time, their sound like a mix of the Roses' muddy second album and the tighter, harder grooves of Jane's Addiction. Tonight is the second of a three-legged return to the live fray, following a round of pub venues and preceding a run of student unions, all in the same four cities. Harvey has replaced his previous shaggy locks with a severe, Taxi Driver mohican. As "Drugs" suggests, he has also ditched the vacuous sloganeering and irritating scat of his band's first two records for more sophisticated fare, though his dense lyrics struggle for room among the riffs. Best is the title track of their forthcoming album Strength In Numbers, where guitarist Adam Nutter spruces things up with a sharper, less swampy attack, while behind the drums Phil Jordan returns to his powerful best. Otherwise, Harvey's bandmates seem entirely anonymous. One is also left wondering if he has been reading too many self-help books, with song titles such as "No Weapon Stronger Than Will".

What carries The Music through tonight's set is their sheer self-belief, matched nowadays only by Kasabian. Harvey's dancing is a crazed mix of funky-chicken strut, Jim Morrison cod-shamanism and rave posturing, which gives a clue to the band's real strength. The best songs on their debut, such as "Getaway", share the dynamics of mid-Nineties house anthems, all breakdowns and hard-hitting returns. When the band shift from this template, their sound falls to pieces. The medium pace of "The Left Side" sees The Music lose their momentum, despite Nutter aping the arabesque exoticism of Eighties goth rock, which must have pleased Flood, the veteran producer they commandeered for this album.

They sound even more ridiculous on a number from their last album, "Bleed from Within", which carbon-copies U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with its martial drums and portentous lyrics ("the sun is bleeding into mine eyes"). The three instrumentalists rescue proceedings somewhat with some Mardi Gras percussion, which brings a much-needed celebratory moment. As one of their songs on their first album says, "The Truth Is No Words", and that is where The Music are safest.

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