All About Fucking Johnny: Razorlight (2009)

razorlightIn the bowels of the labyrinthine VRT building in Brussels, British rock band Razorlight tear through a version of their song In the City in preparation for a radio concert to be broadcast from the same studio later that night. The atmosphere is relaxed despite a blown keyboard and the fact that this promotional tour in support of latest album Slipway Fires is already beginning to drag. There are no signs of the tensions which have reportedly been threatening to split the band ever since they exploded onto the scene in 2004.

 

“We didn’t really know each other when we got together so there was a lot of stuff to figure out,” bassist Carl Dalermo admits. “That includes the bad and the good, and you have to deal with that. When you’re on the road, the bad can sometimes become more obvious.”

  

“It’s always like that when you’re together for such a concentrated period of time,” guitarist Björn Ågren adds. “Going on tour is like being in the Big Brother house on wheels…except you can’t vote anyone off.” Both guitarist and bass player avoid the question as to who they would vote off if they could, offering only wry smiles which implicitly state ‘no comment’.  

 

Razorlight were a critic’s dream when they first appeared. An angular rock outfit fronted by a supremely self-confident former heroin addict who sounded like Dylan and looked like Jim Morrison. Their first album, Up All Night, seemed to substantiate, at least in part, singer Johnny Borrell’s wild claims of genius. It was a record of the time, perfectly capturing the mixture of bohemia and punk that was sweeping London in the early Noughties. Then came their second album and the inevitable backlash. The eponymously titled follow-up to their spiky debut was richly layered and extravagant, an album that alienated sections of their fan base which accused Razorlight of selling out.

  

“You can’t plan to be mainstream,” says Carl. “It happens when your music reaches a wider audience. The public is responsible for making anything mainstream. If more people like what you do, you become more popular and reach more people.”

  

“You can’t plan anything in rock,” adds Björn. “Anything and everything can and will happen. Spinal Tap is a lesson to us all. I mean we’ve achieved one of the classics, we’ve lost a drummer…although it wasn’t through a freak gardening accident.”

  

It wasn’t just a section of fans that revolted after the release of Razorlight. The polarization within the media increased, setting those who loved the band against those who loathed them.

 

“I think that’s great. I want our music to inspire such extreme emotions,” Björn says. “The worst thing is indifference. I’d hate it if it was all ‘oh, they’re okay I suppose.”

  

“A lot of the bad press is because of fucking Johnny,” admits Carl. “People see him as arrogant and think he’s a dick, they don’t get past the singer to listen to the song. That’s the worst part of it. The music doesn’t even get a mention sometimes.”

  

“A lot of it is quite personal and nasty,” Björn agrees. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for Johnny. I have yet to read a witty or funny put-down about us. It’s quite dark, mostly.”

 

Despite internal strife and external pressure, Razorlight have survived to make album number three. Slipway Fires may not be the important, grand statement the band wanted it to be but it is another obvious step in their evolution. After the youthful sneer of Up All Night and the ballad-heavy Razorlight, the third album brings the best of both together and turns the volume up to eleven. In a few cases, Slipway Fires suggests Razorlight are dangerously close to stadium rock pomposity but saving graces such as Tabloid Lover and Monster Boots keep them tied to their roots. All in all, it suggests that, if they can stay together and avoid both musical and personal excesses, Razorlight might eventually become the all-conquering band they already are in the mind of their divisive singer.

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