The Critics: From boy band to little boy lost


On Take That's final tour, the four remaining members played Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". They gave their backing musicians a teabreak and, accompanied only by the rhythmic rumble of Kurt Cobain turning in his grave, they set out to prove that they could play real instruments almost as well as they could breakdance and display their buttocks. As it turned out, they couldn't. It was a rotten version, and the whole dubious exercise could be excused only because Take That recognised it as a bit of out-of-character japery. They weren't going to release "Smells Like Pre- teen Spirit" as their next single.

When Mark Owen played Radiohead's "Creep" at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Tuesday, he had a different agenda in mind. On his first solo album, Green Man (RCA), he tried on Sergeant Pepper and Donovan's paisley-patterned musical cast-offs, but since its release last year, he has donned the threadbare brown cardigan of grunge. Owen has told journalists of his love for Radiohead, and his tour band are skinny boys in long-sleeved T-shirts who bash out generic indie rock. His rendition of "Creep", then, was a serious and respectful statement of intent. Any resemblance to Take That's three minutes of role-playing was purely coincidental.

That was Owen's point of view, anyway. In fact, his "Creep" and Take That's "Teen Spirit" were no different. He seems to think that transforming himself into Radiohead is no more complicated than a style makeover on daytime TV: at the start of the programme you're the prettiest member of a pretty band; an hour later, you've put on a black T-shirt, you've hired some anonymous jobbing musicians, and, hey presto, you're a reluctant spokesman for the disenfranchised youth of the Nineties, even if your voice is a cross between those of Jonathan Ross and Orville the Duck.

Owen is disqualified from indie messiah status on several counts. For instance, Radiohead's Thom Yorke resembles a baby goblin with a hangover, while Little Marky - who received two-thirds of Take That's fanmail - is a smooth-skinned Smurf with an enormous dimply smile and Timotei hair. As he sang "I want a perfect body", he wrung the hem of his black T-shirt with both hands, flashing a close- to-perfect midriff and eliciting an eardrum-puncturing squeal of delight from the crowd. Yorke's exposed stomach has the potential to elicit squeals, too, but they're unlikely to be ones of delight.

Owen's years of dancing in Take That, meanwhile, have left him with a seemingly involuntary propensity for sudden hip swivels and robotic arm movements. When he attempts some indie choreography, such as collapsing forward so that only his tight grip on the microphone stand stops him knocking himself out on the stage, he merely looks as if he's been studying videos of Blur or the Verve, in preparation for an appearance on Stars in Their Eyes. You can take the boy out of the boy band, it seems, but taking the boy band out of the boy is a lot more problematic.

With the closing line of "Creep" - "I don't belong here" - Owen pointed at the stage. One could almost feel sorry for him, as he struggled to ignore the banner which asked him to "Get your kit off, show us your lunchbox". His audience consisted almost entirely of girls between the ages of six and 14. As for the grown-up indie fans he hoped for, I can confirm only one sighting, and that, mysteriously enough, was of the guitarist from Pulp. Maybe Owen doesn't belong here, in front of fans with whistles in their mouths instead of cigarettes, but in that case, where does he belong? He doesn't seem sure.

In many ways, Owen's support band, Northern Uproar, were better suited to shepherding the young audience along the bumpy road from pop to indie. The Uproar, who were the new Oasis for 15 minutes in 1995, are four unattractive, unhygienic, Red Stripe-swigging teenagers: many of the spectators must have been reminded of the big brothers who Biro rude words on to their Gary Barlow pencil-cases. None the less, the band's second album, Yesterday Tomorrow Today (Heavenly), is full of breezy, Dodgy-ish, old-fashioned pop, like Oasis in a remake of That Thing You Do! The group didn't create much of an uproar, but they could make a respectable living by changing their name to the Northerners and selling some songs to Kavana.

Daft Punk aren't, at a glance, daft or punk, although if you leaf through their press cuttings you'll see that no journalist can resist arguing that they are one or the other or both. It's simpler to say that they are a Parisian techno duo in their early twenties whose acclaimed debut album, Homework (Virgin), strolled into the UK Top 10 earlier this year, despite giving the impression that it was made with a second-hand drum machine and a child's Casiotone keyboard. With a sound that resides between the big-beats of the Chemical Brothers and the laidback Euro-cheesiness of Jimi Tenor, Daft Punk have had two club smashes, "Around the World" and "Da Funk", the latter of which is probably less famous for its squelchy keyboard line than for its video of a dog-headed man walking around New York. This is appropriate: Daft Punk are so fame-shy that they insist on wearing masks for photo shoots (a tactic which Northern Uproar have been sadly reluctant to emulate).

This diffidence means that their live performance consists of two blokes standing behind mixing desks. Still, there was always something to look at at the London Astoria, whether it was their name flashing in pink neon, or the serried ranks of spotlights, or the two mirror-image screens, continuously flicking between films and animations.

The music was not much easier to recognise than les garcons. Each track was chopped up, mixed up and souped up, and the album was made to look like preliminary sketches for the show's garish pop-art painting. The hit singles aside, however, there was too much generic techno hammering to allow Daft Punk a Prodigy- ous level of success. I expect that suits them fine. This way, they can keep wearing their masks.

Daft Punk: Nottingham Rock City (0115 9412544), tonight.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

    £30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

    Guru Careers: Account Executive

    £18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

    Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Healthcare expertise

    Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

    Day In a Page

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf