The Script, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
The Fray, Borderline, London
Monday 08 December 2008
Every time I see this many people, I think we're the support act," says The Script's guitarist Mark Sheehan, staring out at the hardly vast Shepherds Bush Empire. But on their previous visits, they were indeed supporting the dull likes of The Hoosiers and Newton Faulkner. That was before their self-titled debut album hit No 1 here and in their native Ireland.
The Script's story veers between time as studio back-room boys and summits with US R&B kings such as The Neptunes. Both Sheehan and singer-heartthrob Danny O'Donoghue lost a parent during the album's writing, the basis for their hit single, "We Cry". They are genuinely excited to be playing, clearly believe in what they are doing, and are braced to prove themselves. But they aren't helped by O'Donoghue's constipated squat behind his keyboard, and black leather jacket recalling The X Factor's fake idea of rock'n'roll. The welterweight R&B of their record is replaced by something slightly tougher live, especially on "Rusty Halo". There are lines that suggest intelligence: "You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything," O'Donoghue sings at one point. But he could usefully follow that advice himself. Even when singing of genuine sorrow, emotion hardly registers. The encore of Bowie's "Heroes" suggests he knows what deep pop can be. But The Script are paddling in the shallows.
Across town, last year's model The Fray are warming up for their follow-up to 2007's How to Save a Life, which sold over three million, largely, you can't help but think, for the sentiment of its hit title song. This is the Denver band's first gig in a year, and the public debut of the new album. New single "You Found Me" offers a vague sense of being saved, and a default mode of ersatz yearning. It's the blueprint for the emotionally limp emo genre, but The Fray aren't really that sort of band.
Led by shaven-headed singer Isaac Slade, they look like a meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar US indie band from the 1990s. Accordingly, finding themselves back in one of the tiny clubs they played when they were broke doesn't phase them, and they play with the solid swing of veterans.
The Fray's problem, like The Script's, is that, with all the things you could say in a rock song, they have nothing to add. Both bands are likeable makeweights, not quite able to believe their luck.
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