ROCK : Music for people who prefer mush to Pulp
Sunday 10 March 1996
I can almost see Ice-T's point, though. At Wembley Arena on Wednesday, Bolton grunted and growled through "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" with so much heart that you'd think that sittin' around wastin' time was the most intense and emotionally draining of all human experiences. His voice is technically impeccable, but the lyrics might as well be in a foreign language for all the distinction he draws between one song and another. (No wonder he mastered an aria from I Pagliacci so easily.) Whichever classic falls into his grasp - "When a Man Loves a Woman", "To Love Somebody" - it will be mushed into MOR soft rock.
Bolton is the Kevin Costner of pop, the male Celine Dion. Hair aside, he is as innocuous as a cardboard cut-out. One song in this Greatest Hits show seemed to hint at a less bland side: "I Said I Loved You But I Lied". What's this? Bolton's square-jawed face twisted in- to a callous sneer as he slings out some groupie who fell for the oldest line in the book? Nope: " 'Cause love could never ever be this strong." Should have guessed.
In place of soul or showmanship, Bolton wheeled on the concert standbys. There is, for instance, an old cabaret trick of enlivening a song by changing key halfway through. The music moves up a tone, and the sudden rise in pitch brings about a concomitant rise in excitement. Corny, but all well and good in its place. Bolton used this rousing gimmick no fewer than six times.
Tick off the other cliches. Popping up on a tiny plat- form halfway down the arena, so that those at the back who had been watching a tiny dot for most of the show could see a slightly bigger dot for one song. A choir of foreigners in their colourful ethnic robes trooping on to add some gospel harmonies to "Time, Love and Tenderness". The fizzle of giant sparklers at the close of the set. So, he made an effort, and his fans got their money's worth. But I yearned for the danger and and imagination of Phil Collins.
"Anyone here heard of Baby Bird?" asked Steven Jones. "One or two?" At most, was the response, but more people have heard of Baby Bird than have heard them. While there are only 3,000 copies of their CDs available, each of these copies seems to have generated another column inch of press coverage, probably because each contains almost as many musical genres. They are the lo-fi, shoestring work of one man, the aforementioned Mr Jones, who combines the voice of Vic Reeves with the looks and manner of Eddie Izzard. Three-fifths of the way through his programme of releasing five limited-edition CDs in under a year, he writes an album in the time it takes the Stone Roses to do a photo-session. So far, they have spilled over with cracked brilliance, thrillingly silly rhymes and dreamily minimal music.
Now Jones's one-man band has hatched into a bona fide pop combo. On Thursday, they were in a north-London ballroom, supporting another group who consist of one person on record and five people live, the Lightning Seeds (the Bird-Seed Show?). Unfortunately, you get more sonic variation and better production from his four-track demo tapes than from five musicians. Part of Jones's stage persona is to act as if he doesn't care about the songs, but the effect was lost somewhat: the crowd, waiting for the Lightning Seeds, didn't care either. "You sort-of kind-of sort-of-ish enjoyed Baby Bird," he said at the end of the set, and he was right.
Pulp are just about the only band whose quality of performance is in direct proportion to the dimensions of the auditorium, so we knew we were in for a fine evening at Wembley Arena at the end of their first mega- venue tour. But no one could have known just how fine it would be. Jarvis Cocker is simply the most charismat- ic British pop star of the Nineties, whether chatting drolly, singing songs which are already classics, or dancing like a short-circuiting robot playing keepy-uppy with an invisible football. The other members of Pulp (yes, they do exist) seemed happy to stand back, look vaguely weird, and let him get on with it. None of them is as flash on his or her instrument as anyone in Blur, say, but the orchestration is ingenious and the whole is greater than the complicated sum of the parts. See Pulp now or be prepared to explain to your children in a decade or two why you passed up the opportunity to witness one of the best bands ever.
Michael Bolton: Newcastle Arena (0191 401 8000), Mon; Birmingham NEC (0121 780 4133), Wed & Thurs; Manchester Arena (0161 930 8000), 19 Mar; Glasgow SECC (0141 248 9999), 20 Mar.
Life & Style blogs
Babies cry at night to stop mothers procreating, scientists claim
Naked yoga: the bare truth - it's already big in the US, and has now landed here
Health warning over 88,000 foreign doctors working in the NHS
Baby catches deadly meningitis infection from cat
Kim Jong-ale: How did Ushers brewery of Trowbridge end up in North Korea producing Pyongyang's number one beer - and what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...