Hesitant and bashful, UK R'n'B's latest hope must be more confident in the studios of America's hottest producers than at this Yorkshire venue's learner stage. At least, Taio Cruz's CV emphasises his accomplishments behind the mixing desk more than in his slowly burgeoning solo career.
This 26-year-old Sussex lad has already co-written the 2005 Brit Awards' best single – "Your Game" for Will Young and is now making a name for himself in more rarefied company. For some of the biggest hit-makers at home and abroad, think Simon Cowell here and Timbaland protégé Jim Beanz in the US, he is working on material for Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Leona Lewis. However, back in the spring, Cruz's album Departure merely grazed the Top 20.
Even then, an ability to celebrate contemporary styles without kowtowing to American tastes has already won him admirers, celebrity and otherwise. Forthcoming single "She's a Star" comes with a remix that features cameos from an unlikely combination of Busta Rhymes and the Sugababes. No such stellar support, mind, on his first gig outside London, with a motley crew of a band that includes a guitarist that looks like one of The Sopranos' seedy Italian cousins.
What his band lack in cohesion, the clued-up fans make up for, chanting all Cruz's uplifting choruses. Through the murky sound system, you still sense the carefully wrought momentum of Cruz's songs. Especially impressive is "Moving On", spare enough to survive such mauling. Given Cruz turned down a place at Oxford to concentrate on his music career, it is disappointing that he seems to have cribbed his lyrics from online essays. There is silky smoothness in "I Just Wanna Know", but "She's a Star" is as gooey as anything from an X Factor contestant.
With its house beat, "Come On Girl" could have been written with a Sheffield audience in mind, whether Gatecrasher's ravers or that new generation with this year's sound, the four-four/R'n'B crossover of bassline. With wide-eyed enthusiasm and lack of oomph in the undercarriage, Cruz's version sounds more like that bizarre British mix of rap and acid beats, hip house. In his sensitive hands, though, it is less monstrous hybrid and more a winning combination that could revive the career of many a struggling star name.
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