REVIEW / Keeping it under wraps: Great expectations and huge nostalgia - Waters talks on the dark side Jasper Rees on Tasmin Archer, Town & Country

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The Independent Culture
WHATEVER it is that constitutes the appeal of Tasmin Archer, the newest bloom in intelligent British pop, it isn't something in the way she moves.

A boom with a camera on the end of it swivelled and prowled over the pit at the Town & Country Club in London in the vain search for an interesting new angle on its immobilised target. One wonders how they'll market the video: 'All the way from Bradford, Tasmin Archer, live - no, honestly - in concert.' If you were performing in a heavy overcoat you probably wouldn't want to put yourself through too many paces either. For the moment, stepping like a rabbit out of a hat into the headlights' full beam, Archer is concentrating on what raised her from long obscurity in the first place. While she kept the rest of herself belted in, her big voice belted out like a melodious foghorn, loud and clear over the crisp locomotive accompaniment of her five-man band, including her co- composer, John Beck, on keyboards and John Hughes on guitar .

In 'Arienne' (which on disc kicks off with lush a cappella harmonies) she compensated for the lack of multitrack vocals with a sound so mighty that it was very nearly out of control. It's an instrument that would make any audience snap to attention, though when she led the band into the intimate 'Ripped Inside', the hubbub suggested that attention could wander.

You knew this was meant to be the show's sotto voce interlude because the three guitarists sat on chairs in a semi-circle. No one had told the chanteuse, who slung her voice out into the auditorium with the same raw energy. This was a case of the dial going up to 11, and rarely much below 10.

She did observe the dynamics when the song demanded it, and only the better ones did. For 'When It Comes Down to It' she found the diffidence that the touching melody calls for; in the current single, 'In Your Care', a harangue about child abuse, she whispered the verses and spat out the chorus.

It may have been long in the pipeline, but her articulate album Great Expectations, on which most of the show was based, contains a few makeweight, up-tempo thudders - 'Somebody's Daughter', 'Hero', 'Steel Town' - that you could never tell apart in an identity parade. Or not on the strength of this performance, anyway.

Some bright spots were not from the album: 'Man at the Window' was a more comfortable vehicle for her voice's R'n'B inflections. There was a jaunty Paul Simon feel to a piece of fluff called 'Real, oh so Real' and Archer had no problems taking herself to town on 'No Regrets'.

She faltered into the showstopper, 'Sleeping Satellite', but we were all too agog at the firmament flickering on the back wall to notice. Archer's debut number one is the first decent pop song formally to broach the subject of space travel since a man with a brightly lit, orange feather cut did it 20 years ago.

Nothing changes, except that Dame David would never have sung his way out on a happy-clappy number like 'Lords of the New Church'. The song had Archer's disciples finally putting their hands together in evangelical zeal, and that always looks good on video.

(Photograph omitted)

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