Spreading a little happiness

ROCK: The new wave of New Wave: Sting reinvents himself as a comedian, while the Sex Pistols pop up again in a London cinema
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Make no mistake, Sting is a fun guy. Some people say he's not fun, but they're wrong. He is fun. If you don't believe me, you should have seen him at the Albert Hall on Thursday. He made a joke about his hair-loss. He did a Funny Walk. A girl in the audience proffered a rose and he took it from her with his teeth. Not only did he get his brass section to bop from foot to foot, but he also got his choir, lined up on ledges on either side of the stage, to do the hand-jive. Do these sound like the actions of someone who is not fun? They do not. Sting is fun. Got it?

Over the years, he has been derided as a self-righteous, over-serious hippy, which is what happens when you campaign tirelessly for ecology and human rights. On Thursday, "Fields of Gold", "An Englishman in New York" and "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" were reminders that he is, none the less, one of the best pop songwriters in the business, so he could afford to ignore the sneers (let's face it, he could afford anything money can buy). But the mockery must have, well, stung, and now he tries so hard to be fun it hurts.

By denying the existence of any emotion other than jollity, he does his songs no favours. He invited three people from the audience on stage to join in on "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" - all very amusing, except that their vague grasp of the pitch really did bring a tear to the eye. "Roxanne" (a sparse song about a prostitute, remember?) became a cheesy gospel singalong; and the sinister, threatening air of "Every Breath You Take" was deoderised to pine-scented freshness by a shiny, Stax-brass backing.

The mood was as forced as holding a fake grin for two hours solid. Maybe I was sitting too far from the front to be carried along by Sting's enthusiasm. Maybe the well-drilled musicians could have been more spontaneous. Or maybe Sting is just not a fun person after all, and when someone like that is desperate to convince you otherwise - your bank manager at a Christmas party, say - you'd be forgiven for wishing they'd go off to a rainforest somewhere.

David Byrne and his former bandmates are no longer talking. Five years after the dissolution of Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz reunited as the Heads, and Byrne, good sport that he is, took them to court for blackening the (truncated) name of his old band. Hav- ing heard their album, No Talking Just Head (Radioactive), I reckon he may have had a point. The Heads recorded some insubstantial instrumental tracks, and enlisted a crowd of friends - from Shaun Ryder to Michael Hutchence - to add vocals and lyrics afterwards. The results are fine, but perhaps inevitably, given this method of composition, there is little melody or magic. So I went to the Hanover Grand on Tuesday with some trepidation, fearing both that the band would be a faint shadow of their younger selves, and that Chris Frantz might still have that horrible moustache he sported on the punk episode of the BBC's Dancing in the Street.

Doubts about the Heads were blown away in as long a time as it took to register Frantz's clean-shaven face. Starting with Talking Heads' "Memories Can't Wait", the band produced a tough, organic noise, invigorated by Blast Murray, their additional guitarist, and Johnette Napolitano, the woman recruited as lead vocalist. Far from being fazed by the task of stepping into Byrne's big suit, she hot-wired his songs and gave them such a thorough re-spray with her dark, aggressive persona that you could almost forget they ever belonged to anyone else. It was Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison who were in danger of seeming like impostors.

Not in great danger, though. In the Seventies, Tina Weymouth used to be mistaken for a boy; now, in a cut-off sweater and leather trousers, and with her hair in a ragged, blonde mop, the bassist is more likely to be mistaken for Darryl Hannah in Blade Runner. Her husband, Chris Frantz, played his trademark metronomic beat, and Jerry Harrison his trademark edgy organ riffs. They sounded just like Talking Heads used to before Byrne decided that no rock song was complete without bongos.

If the Heads's material paled slightly next to that of their previous incarnation, it's worth noting that of the new songs, the best ones - "No Talking Just Head", "Punk Lolita" and "Damage I've Done" - were those which were written in their entirety by the Heads, or by the Heads with Napolitano. They should record their next album live in the studio, as a proper band, with Napolitano doing all the singing. In the meantime, I defy David Byrne and his current band to play "Psycho Killer", "Burning Down the House" and "Life During Wartime" better than the Heads did on Tuesday.

On Snoop Doggy Dogg's new album, Tha Doggfather (Death Row), the gangsta rapper expresses his intention to "make the whole house bounce", and he succeeded well enough at Wembley Arena on Wednesday. However, apart from opting to wear an enormously baggy, Andy-Pandy romper suit, he didn't stray an inch from hip-hop's tedious conventions. There were the rumbling backing tapes. There were the four egotistical blokes plodding around the stage as if they were attempting an under-rehearsed, slow-motion Morris Dance. There were the bellowed lyrics, incomprehensible except for the familiar chant of "Throw your hands in the air, and wave 'em like you just don't care". And there was the pantomime business of dividing the crowd into sections and judging which could shout the loudest. I wonder if rap fans leave rock shows muttering, "It was all right, I suppose, but I was a bit disappointed that there was no shouting contest, and that we were never told to wave our hands in the air."

Sting: Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 420 1000), Mon-Wed.

Comments