Pop: Denim 100 Club, London

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The Independent Culture
The relationship of Denim's Lawrence to the music industry was sado-masochistic from the start. In the Eighties, he put out an album a year with Felt, but never had a hit. Frustrated, he escaped to New York and hatched a new band. Denim appeared in 1992, praising the plastic sound of Seventies pop. Their debut, Back in Denim, was some sort of classic, half litany of Seventies trash, half rant against everyone else's taste. No one bought it. It seemed obvious that the band was a one-off, a novelty.

Not to Lawrence. Last year he returned with a new record. It was even more bitter, even more superficial. In the year of Oasis, it was suicide. That, it seemed, was surely the end. But last week, in a tiny London club, Lawrence was back again, playing a pointless showcase for another, ridiculous release. Jarvis Cocker, his successful pop twin, was there to give support. So were St Etienne, his new record-label sponsors. Being bailed out by those two shows how low his stock has sunk. So what was he going to do about it?

As little as possible, it turned out. Denim's current line-up took the stage dressed in 1973 Top of the Pops-annual cool, shouting and bouncing with archaic force. But in the middle stood Lawrence, barely moving at all. Maybe he was withdrawn, maybe he was frozen with fear. Either way, he put more effort into chewing gum than singing. Only on a couple of occasions did his voice reach the level of his songs. "In the Seventies, they blew my home town up," he intoned during "The Osmonds", the epic at Back in Denim's heart, leaving the Birmingham pub bombs stranded in a sea of kitsch. Something in the evenness of his singing rang true, almost despite himself.

Then, near the end, he returned to his first album's manifesto. "I'm Against the Eighties" was where Lawrence made his stand in 1992. "I'm looking forward to the Nineties," he sang at its end. The song's conviction that he wouldn't be beaten by another decade's dour bad taste, so sadly wrong, didn't affect him at first. But as it went on, he stared more fiercely, and his lack of apparent effort, his incompetence, frankly, at being any sort of pop star, the almost certain doom of the dreams that drive him, became the song's point. He looked almost frightening. Then it finished, and Denim played the next song with even more conviction: "Internet Curtains," a novelty song about a novelty band. It wasn't much of a night. What we were left with was Lawrence, and his perverse insistence on being there at all.