The Rakes, Mean Fiddler, London

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The Independent Culture

Alan Donohoe is, by all accounts, an unassuming chap offstage and, despite The Rakes' recent ventures into the Top 20, is absolutely amazed when anybody recognises him. I wonder how long his meekness will last. In time, it may become merely a schtick. For now, it seems to be for real.

In any case, he's going to have to get used to the recognition. Following the demise of the Libertines, The Rakes are emerging from a chasing pack as one of the bands most likely to get their teeth into the corpse. (Even their name, of course, is more or less a synonym of "Libertines", if you discount the possibility that we're meant to be thinking of long wood-and-steel claws for organising leaves.)

The Mean Fiddler is a humid sweatbox tonight, even more than usual, and is rammed with the beautiful and the damned, ie girls from Sweden and boys from Shoreditch. Post-gig, they're all doubtless destined for Candy Box, the cheap and cheerful club around the corner given the wry nickname "Scandy Box" by indie clubland veterans.

This "figures", as our colonial cousins would have it, and it also goes some way towards explaining Donohoe's un-starry demeanour. The Rakes, you see, write about this life: they're of the scene.

In last week's paper, I compared Donohoe to Mike Skinner, and I stand by that comparison. The Rakes' debut album, Capture/Release, does for indie London what The Streets' Original Pirate Material did for the chavvy provinces, documenting, with an unsentimental but still affectionate eye, a hedonistic bedsitland existence of burning the candle at both ends, and just about scraping enough of a career to maintain it. It's the Quadrophenia lifestyle, 40 years on.

Maybe that's why, at many moments tonight, Donohoe appears to be dancing (in that jerky Ian Curtis style which is de rigueur right now) to his favourite band - rather than leading his own - and is surprised by the uncurbed enthusiasm which greets him. So much so, indeed, that he chatters nervoussly and incomprehensibly, putting on someone else's high-pitched voice like he's suffering from a mild case of Tourette's.

With BBC4 screening the Live Forever documentary, NME Originals publishing a Britpop special, Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park lucratively appropriating Pulp's sound, and Donohoe usurping Albarn's Mockney geezer persona (one or two Rakes songs sound very Blur), it's clear that there's a mood of mid-Nineties reappraisal, if not downright revivalism, at large. The generation who read about Blur vs Oasis in their smalltown bedrooms, too young to take part in the war, have grown up and come to the Big City for a second crack at it.

Bassist Jamie Hornsmith even looks the spit of Alex James (or, to be more precise, the David Walliams version in Rock Profiles). To complete the dandyish picture, he wears dazzling white shoes, reminiscent of the football boots of flashy players who fancy themselves a bit and thereby give themselves a lot to live up to.

In some ways, they're a fairly stylish bunch. That logo, lit from inside the bass drum by a cleverly-placed spotlight, is very much in the Czech pre-war style, and drummer Lasse Petersen is possibly the suavest member (next to his name in my notebook it says "cool Nazi hair"). Again, though, Donohoe looks more like a fan than a star. In his Fred Perry and white socks, he whooshes me back to school in 1981 and our cunning ways of bending the uniform rules.

When I close my eyes, though, he whooshes me back to last Sunday. I was having a hair-of-the-dog cider with friends at Nambucca, Holloway's only indie pub, to the soundtrack of MTV2. We all slowly became amazed at how samey the bands on the indie-rock channel's primetime rotation were sounding (don't get me wrong - I love some of those bands; but there's more to life than spidery guitar intros, angular motifs and pained, Joy Divisionesque vocals). This is partly the work of Paul Epworth, the hip producer du jour - whose accidental legacy is to make everything sound practically identical. The Rakes fit this template to a degree, although theirs is a more accessible, lad-friendly version.

Unless you were paying attention, their chirpy bloke-rock, combined with Donohoe's dress sense, could have you fooled that The Rakes are just another Ordinary Boys. It's only when you strain your ears, and catch Donohoe's lyrics, that there's any hint that these boys are extraordinary.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Rakes' UK tour continues until 9 Sept

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