Typically, U.K. bands have a particular talent for producing compelling debuts, but sophomore efforts seem to come not quite as easily for them. I wouldn’t say Razorlight’s 2004 debut, Up All Night, was a good album, but, in some respects at least, it was a noteworthy effort. It was an Anglo take on Is This It? that wasn’t nearly as interesting as anything that the Doherty/Barat combo was coming up with at the time, but Up All Night did have its fair share of tunes.
But Razorlight is the typical album-after-you-become-famous album, and it’s fitting that such a record begins with a song called “In the Morning.” It’s enjoyable enough, though hardly original: Its jangly guitars are lifted almost directly from Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” and the halting vocal pattern during the verses comes courtesy of Joe Strummer. It’s also the album completely dominated by the band’s frontman, singer-songwriter Johnny Borrell. In effect, then, Razorlight is a solo record, and many of these songs have a schmaltzy, Billy Joel feel to them.
But despite that the Razorlight sound is anything but impressive, Borrell and company have a strange knack for bringing their songs, deficiencies and all, to entertaining and sometimes stirring conclusions. The Matchbox 20-style intro and bang-your-head-on-the-desk lyrics of “America” somehow aren’t enough to make the song totally irredeemable-toward the end, the drums pick up, everything falls in line, Borrell starts pleading and, for a few moments anyways, the song works. Salvaging a song like that is an impressive feat, and Razorlight goes and duplicates the feat on “Who Needs Love?” “Hold On” and “I Can’t Stop This Feeling I’ve Got.” (Others, like “Kirby’s House,” with its cloying lyrical references to “In the Morning,” and “Pop Song 2006,” with its excruciating title, are well beyond redemption.)
The question is, then: Despite its shortcomings, is Razorlight good? Well, not quite . . . but almost. The thinness of the sound (not to mention the Billy Joel similarities, which I just can’t shake), the lack of any edge, and the fact that most of these songs start off terribly prove too much to overcome, but Razorlight is not nearly the disaster that it could’ve been. It’s not the towering achievement the band members undoubtedly believe it to be, either, but at least it justifies the band’s existence.