Pop: Still hip, still gutsy, still clever and still blonde


Newcastle City Hall

Natalie Imbruglia

Reading Rivermead

Apart from rap reworkings of Bee Gees songs, pop music in the Nineties will be remembered primarily for the reunions. Every few months for the past decade, the members of a legendary band have patched up their differences, told lots of interviewers that they never felt the group had fulfilled its potential, then fallen out again. And as a music critic, my part in this process has been to grumble each time about how pitiful it is when icons travesty themselves.

Deep down, though, I don't see what's wrong with reunions. OK, so the musicians are after some easy money, but why do you think they got together in the first place? And OK, they're never going to have the same impact as they did the first time around, but how could they? Times change. If you go to a school reunion, you don't end up sitting through double French and sneaking behind the gym hall for a cigarette.

Purists may shudder, but I'm happy to have seen the Velvet Underground, Television and the Sex Pistols return from the grave. And, this week, I was happy to see barrel through their many hits at such a breathless pace that the crowd never stopped dancing, and Deborah Harry's joke about leaving the stage to put new batteries in her pacemaker had a worrying ring of plausibility.

scored nine Top Five hits in the UK, including five number ones, before they broke up in 1982. Now, the four main members - Harry, Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke - have resumed trading, joined by a new bassist, a second guitarist, and, on some songs, an extra keyboard player. And they're sounding excellent, notwithstanding the lamentable cleaning up of their trashy guitar sound. It's the first law of rock reunions: if you're a band from the Sixties or Seventies who reform in the Nineties, your music's going to sound a bit Eighties.

There's no disguising the fact that aren't as young as they used to be. During the instrumental break in "Atomic", Jimmy Destri played the synth while kneeling on the stage with a cigarette in his mouth. Harry, whose face has been on more posters than Blu-Tack, is now 53, and a T- shirt and a tight, knee-length skirt are no longer the wisest outfit for her. More sensibly, the men in the band have realised that the way to hide their middle-aged spread is to stick to the black suits they always wore, except for a stern-looking Chris Stein, who has chosen grey to match his hair.

But age cannot wither . If they're not as young as they used to be, one of the keys to their success was that they never used to be very young in the first place. Harry was an unbelievable 33 before the group had any hits. So while a Sex Pistols reunion requires 40-year-olds to fake the furious alienation of their acne-ridden teenage selves, 's oeuvre was always made up of mature, knowing art-rock with a generous dose of cabaret. The group started life by kidnapping the fresh-faced girl-group cooing of the Sixties and dragging it round the grimy streets of New York, and they ended up making some of the most bizarre and ambitious disco-punk-reggae-jazz ever to grace the charts. Don't forget that "Denis" has a verse in French for no apparent reason, and one of the earliest examples of rapping on a pop single consisted of Harry rambling on about a car- eating alien in "Rapture". Despite their reputation for ultra-cool urban pop, then, have always dealt in postmodern pastiche. So on Tuesday, the admittedly frightening sight of Harry hamming up her performance, tottering on her heels, and belting out the choruses with the brassy voice of a show-stopping vaudeville dame was somehow true to the spirit.

Clem Burke has aged best. On 's album covers, Burke is the one who looks like Rodney Bewes from The Likely Lads. Now, sustained by fruit, tofu and treadmill work-outs, he is the most hyperactive yet disciplined drummer I've ever seen. He starts "Dreaming" with a fearsome drum roll, and then keeps it going for the rest of the song. And he still has enough energy to jump on top of the bass drum at the end, spinning one drum stick between his fingers and tossing the other in the air.

What's more astonishing is that 's new songs, due for release on an album in February, are almost as clever and as deranged as the old ones. "Maria" in particular deserves its place on a "Best of " compilation. If only Harry would invest in a trouser suit and Stein and Destri would keep their jackets on, I'd have no reunion city blues at all.

Natalie Imbruglia would love to have some of Harry's credibility, but, alas, it will always be beyond her. Problem one: her mis-spent youth. At the age when the Seventies pop babe was a Playboy bunny, a Warhol hanger-on, and a CBGB habitue, the Nineties pop babe was a squeaky-clean soap star. Problem two is that Imbruglia's brand of gorgeousness is so much less idiosyncratic than Harry's. Imbruglia is as perfectly proportioned as a shop-window dummy. Like Bush's Gavin Rossdale, she's attractive in such an expensively styled, self-conscious way that whenever she says she's a tortured artiste you have to laugh in her beautiful face. Of course, as in Rossdale's case, if her songs were at all original, her looks wouldn't be an issue. That's problem three.

In concert, Imbruglia's music sounds just like it does on her 5.5 million- selling album, Left of the Middle (RCA). And on Left of the Middle, her music sounds just like Alanis Morissette and Portishead do on their albums. She's Xeroxed their styles in an effort to get some alternative, un-Kylie- ish credibility, but ever since 1995 any white female who has wanted to be a pop star has had the same idea. Left of the middle? Not any more.

Imbruglia may prefer not to be reminded of Neighbours, but she still makes her living by acting, only now she's playing the role of an alternative rocker. She's been to wardrobe to collect the T-shirt, the baggy jeans and the tomboy haircut. There's an acoustic segment in the middle of the gig - de rigeur for the serious musician ... if, once again, three years out of date. And her rent-a-band have divvied up the signifiers of indiedom between them: one has punk spikes, one has an Adidas T-shirt, one has a beanie hat.

But as an indie chick, Imbruglia's characterisation is no more rounded than it was when she was surrounded by wobbly Ramsay Street sets. Onstage, she forgets about the watery-eyed, sulky persona she adopts for her record sleeves, and instead she giggles and skips nervously, and she shakes her head with the confidence of someone who knows that her every hair has been individually cut and conditioned to ensure it will fall back exactly into place. It's a fine, lively, professional show, and entirely uninvolving. Next year, she'll be filling Wembley Arena.

: Dublin Olympia (00 353 1 677 7744), Tues & Wed; Glasgow Barrowlands (0141 552 4601), Thurs; Lyceum Theatre (0870 606 3448), Sat & Sun; and touring. Natalie Imbruglia: Poole Arts Ctr (01202 685222, Mon); Forum, NW5 (0171 344 0044), Wed & Thurs.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US