Leaving the aesthetically challenged Brighton Centre, my companion and I tried to work out what was missing from Bill Bailey's show. My friend, seeing Bailey for the first time, wished he could have had more arrogance, à la Ricky Gervais, whereas I saw a persona tip its balance from loveable hobbit to grumpy curmudgeon. We both agreed that there's somehow a charisma deficit and one that has to be paid for if you're on a stadium tour, a concept that is often anathema to the rhythms and workings of comedy.
Despite the sense of "removal" from the gig it's hard not to be drawn in by a popular entertainer who can name-drop philosophers and play Kant's categorical imperative to the tune of Match of the Day, yet still moan at modern stars for their shortcomings. On the latter, he lays in to indie rockers The Killers for their lyric: "I've got soul/but I'm not a soldier", from which he concludes one might as well sing: "I've got ham/but I'm not a hamster."
The lyrical shortcomings of others are a matter of understandable concern to this musical comedian and self-confessed muso, and his victims range from the easy target of Katie Melua's "Nine Million Bicycles" (to which his riposte is: "there are eight million iPods in Rangoon/ but they can't download so they use them as spoons") to the less contemporary but equally ludicrous "Dancing on the Ceiling", where he suggests that the feeling that Lionel Ritchie so enthusiastically describes in the song must be one of "nausea and disorientation".
Unfortunately, much of Bailey's undoubtedly delicious phraseology is tinged with what might well be end-of-tour fatigue or genuine impatience with his comedy targets. He asks us to imagine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina set to the theme tune from Friends and imagine Bush waving, ironically, to the victims on the line: "I'll be there for you." It's a searing criticism but, like most of Bailey's shtick, a musical doodle that sits amid a quick flit through the ills of the world, religion, creationism, the royals and what it would be like if we had the theme from The Pink Panther as our national anthem. The upshot is that boredom never creeps in but nor does a resonant memory of the set linger.
The closest Bailey comes to really giving flight to his ire, and marrying it to music, is in a section where the comedian describes how he turned down the offer of doing an advertisement for the supermarket chain Asda. Though he sets up the premise of the perceived evils of Wal-Mart, owners of Asda, rather too quickly, his composition: "Hey Asda, I Ain't Gonna Be Your Bitch" is rather a refreshing refrain and a stance that others in the comedy fraternity might have done well to take.
Rather than staying with the theme of corporate ills, Bailey is then off talking about James Blunt, again. Yet he returns to the idea, with the story of UBS and Nazi gold, in the second half. It's a pick and mix scenario with some of your favourite flavours coming up repeatedly but losing their distinctiveness along the way. Further underlining the random element of Tinselworm is that a sizeable percentage of it is made up of previous shows, but rather than being a "best of" compilation, the show feels like one of those compilation albums you are contractually obliged to bring out to fulfil your record deal.
There's no doubt Bailey can knock out a tune and a gag, and some of his oldies are goldies, but it's difficult to enjoy the quality of a performer, however obvious, if you aren't quite sure they are enjoying themselves. It's only when Bailey zooms out into the crowd on a "motorised trouser press" that it feels like he's truly free to smile at his own ability.Reuse content