The Zutons, Somerset House, London
Monday 21 July 2008
Amy Winehouse's version of "Valerie" bought The Zutons' songwriter Stan McCabe a new house – and threatened to topple the band's career. Their 2004 Mercury-winning debut Who Killed The Zutons? had seen them overtake their Liverpool peers and mentors The Coral, but the abrasive follow-up Tired of Hanging Around, its tone typified by the song "Hello Conscience", merely marked time in the charts. Then Mark Ronson picked "Valerie" for Winehouse's contribution to his album Version, and the song entered the national consciousness.
The Zutons were already in LA recording their third album, You Can Do Anything, and its countrified, California feel pervades this show. Where "Havana Gang Brawl" once defined their anarchic spirit, now they are calm. McCabe has grown the silky locks of a Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter, a world away from Liverpool's streets, and the stately Somerset House now suits his band more than grubby clubs.
McCabe's problem is that he seems anonymous in his own band, barely noticeable even as he's singing. Abi Harding, the sax player who lends The Zutons star quality and sex appeal, seems equally subdued. Though she adds show-band brass to "Oh Stacey (Look What You've Done)", she takes a respectful step back, as if regretting her relative stardom.
This leaves the songs. And what has surely given McCabe equilibrium is the knowledge that he has written a dozen melodic, infectious tunes to match "Valerie". "Zuton Fever" nods to their cocky beginnings. "Think Too Much", in which McCabe advises: "You're standing on the edge of a cliff...", and "Stacey", about a girl's exploitation of her dad, then take us into the murky, paranoid world of his later work.
The pensive guitar-picking of "Confusion", followed by "Keep the Feeling", is an emotional sequence dragging hope from wreckage. An a cappella interlude, and a rude blat of sax from Harding, maintain some musical interest. And, though the politeness of what was once such a wild band continues to nag, the tunes keep the crowd engrossed. "Valerie" is wheeled out like the heavy artillery, its simple, extreme yearning and tuneful uplift working without Winehouse. "You Will You Won't" recalls The Kinks at their most primal, but the pity is that its raw energy is so rare from a band that once exuded Liverpool soul.
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