POP / Live Review: Give them a Blue Peter badge

Eternal - Hammersmith Apollo
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The Independent Online
Eternal are wrestling with an old conundrum: how can a star remain an ordinary Joe? How do you win the hearts of pop kids while convincing them that clubbing and telly and kebabs still matter to you? Take That have done it. East 17 too. Is it different for girls?

Well, Eternal need to get a handle on celebrity: there's something a touch too ordinary about these Joes. These four South London chums have waltzed straight out of a slumber party and into the spotlight without taking their celebrity pills. On Wednesday, they kicked off with suitable bluster - strobe lights, lungfuls of smoke, a rush of synths and drums tumbling into the bouncy ''Save Our Love''. But, having been trained on shorter slots, guesting for Dina Carroll or on Smash Hits roadshows, they were exhausted - out of energy, out of ideas - within 20 minutes.

The stage was occupied by a metal overpass, a staircase at each end, the backing band tucked beneath it. It was unspectacular stuff - a Blue Peter-style sticky-tape-and-toilet-rolls imitation of Madonna's ''Blonde Ambition'' set - but at least they were trying, and that rather made you like them, until a lifeless Motown medley changed your mind again. When you're up against the likes of Toni Braxton, you need more than another version of ''You Can't Hurry Love'' on your side.

A press release claims that they ''crack the anonymity crisis which clings to dance music'', but that's a lie. The snappy, swingbeat-flavoured songs, which you'll have heard spilling from car radios, youth clubs and building sites, are sweet and memorable. But the blemishless beauties themselves are visually and vocally interchangeable. They need to hire someone fat, or with a wart, or a lazy eye. A keen fan might spot the difference: the slim girl, the slightly slimmer girl, the even slimmer girl and the one who should be wheeling a drip behind her. All I can recall is a gigantic guitarist, probably called ''Fats'' or ''Big Al'', who partook of Princely riffing at every opportunity.

Early on, the bass-heavy mix forced the group to squeal above the din like a set of tyres taking a sharp bend, a cruel trick given that the vocal acrobatics are what drew the crowd here. Consolation came with a gospel-marinated take on Labi Siffre's syrupy ''Something Inside So Strong'', the immaculate harmonies packed tight as a Club sandwich.

They don't appear to be relishing their little wedge of fame, though. Throughout an hour of dance routines which might have been choreographed in somebody's mum's front room, they maintained a stiff rigor mortis grin. And you thought: a grin like that has got to be hiding something tragic.

Michelle Gayle - you know, Hattie from EastEnders - lubricated the crowd. She was only the supporting act but you could imagine Eternal, starstruck, grilling her backstage for Albert Square tittle-tattle. She could teach them a thing or two about acting the star - she whizzed through a five-song set in an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny Bacofoil skirt, flanked by two sets of bopping twins, or maybe it was one set and a big mirror. Whatever, she vanished before we got bored, another trick Eternal would do well to learn.

And in a show inches clear of the bull's-eye, there was one more disappointment to come. The guitarist was called Andrew Smith. Typical.

(Photograph omitted)