Rock: B+ for effort (and outfits)

Nicholas Barber
Saturday 17 October 1998 23:02


Guildford Civic Hall

Mobo Awards

Royal Albert Hall, SW7

were at school when they started making records, and they hit the top of the album chart with 1977 while they were still in their teens. Since then, the Northern Irish trio have toured the world, suffered drink and drugs-related breakdowns, recovered, signed up a fourth member, sold half a million copies of 1977, and they've just seen its follow-up, Nu-Clear Sounds (Infectious), plop into the top 10. They are seasoned pop stars, teenagers no longer. So how come you could still mistake them for a gang of schoolkids?

In concert, especially, could be the class wimps, compensating for always being the last boys picked for football by chopping out muscular, violent music on guitars that are too big for them. Tim Wheeler, their lead singer-guitarist, must take most of the blame; his strained voice makes him sound as if he's practising in his bedroom late at night and he's afraid his parents will hear. The other reason seem more A-Levels than A-list is that they've yet to outgrow their influences. So far, they've been content to wear the musical cast-offs of the Undertones, the Stooges, Sonic Youth and any band on the punk-glam border. Some songs on Nu-Clear Sounds, particularly "Jesus Says" and "Fortune Teller", are pure pastiche. Every "awright" and "baby" is so alien coming out of Wheeler's mouth that it might as well be in a foreign language.

Sadly, what haven't copied from the people on their common-room posters is the style. Their gigs are glam rock without the glam, punk without the anarchy. The band's dress-sense is ... well, I can't remember. They look a bit scruffy, basically. Their speeches to the audience range from "Thanks very much" to "this one's off our first album". Wheeler is motionless, and the stagecraft of Charlotte Hatherley, the new guitarist, and Mark Hamilton, the bassist, amounts to Hamilton's patented stumble: take a few unsteady steps backwards, chin in the air, as if waiting for a cricket ball to drop from the sky; make a half-turn, take another few steps backward, strike a legs-apart guitar-god pose; and repeat. The gallons of adrenalin that fuel the music only just compensate. The poor drummer, Rick McMurray, has to batter out 16 beats a bar on every song.

Like 1977, Nu-Clear Sounds is a good record, with some nice tunes and some guitars making an absolute racket. Its problem is that it doesn't present a new side of the band. no longer have the advantage of being the newest kids on the block, and Britpop is no longer rocking that block as it was in 1996 anyway, so it's doubtful that Nu-Clear Sounds will match the sales of its predecessor. could go one of two ways. They could carry on as they are and watch their concert venues shrink; or they could follow the PJ Harvey route and discover that new, clear sounds can be more powerful than old, fuzzy ones. For now, they still make me feel like a headmaster calling them into my office for a telling-off. "Come on, now, . If you want to be treated as an adult, you've got to behave like one. I know I'm not as strict as this with Cast, but you've got real talent. You've just got to apply yourself. If you could just work harder at your singing, and stop copying the older boys. And for goodness' sake smarten yourself up ..."

The red-letter day on the pop calendar this week was the Mobo award ceremony. Mobo stands for Music of Black Origin, and at first glance it seems an uncomfortably apartheid exercise. How do you decide what's "Of Black Origin"? Take into account the influence of the blues, and there's not much pop music that isn't OBO (off the top of my head, I can think of only Boyzone). But, for all the musical miscegenation which Britain can be proud of, divisions do exist. You've only to look at concert audiences for proof: there were, for instance, next to no black people watching . That said, it's not necessarily harmful that people of different cultures should respond to different pop sub-genres, as long as one sub- genre doesn't have an unfair advantage over the other. As a counterbalance to the predominantly white Brits, then, the Mobo awards have a purpose. And if you disagree, keep an eye on the winners. They actually seem glad to pick up their trophies, whereas Brit recipients tend to look as if they've won the award for Most Blase Band.

The prize-giving at the Albert Hall on Wednesday was a grand, lavish occasion. Or so I gathered when I saw it on Channel 4 the following evening. On the night, I was herded along with the rest of the press into a back room, where we watched a simulcast of the action on two television screens. I'm not saying we deserved more glamorous treatment, but it would have helped if the sound on the TVs had been working. As it was, we couldn't hear any of the performances for the first half-hour - and to add insult to injury, the sound came back on again during Another Level.

More importantly, we couldn't hear who was winning the awards, so a resourceful member of the Mobo staff had to hand out photocopied lists of the results. This meant that - in theory - we knew who the winners were before they did. When the artists started to drop into the press room for question- and-answer sessions, this got awkward. Journalist: "How do you feel about winning the award?"

Pras Michel: "I haven't won yet."

And to think, for this I missed Deep Purple at Wembley Arena.

: Leeds Town & Country (01132 800100), tonight; Middlesbrough Town Hall (01642 242561), Mon; Glasgow Barrowlands (0141 339 8383), Tues; Hull City Hall (01482 226644), Thurs; Llangollen Intl Pavilion (01978 860828), Fri; Manchester Academy (0161 832 1111), Sat.

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