The Bluetones, London

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Perhaps the most surprising aspect to Hounslow's Bluetones is that seven years since they rode to semi-fame on the coat tails of Britpop, they are still extant.

In fact, the Hounslow quartet (plus touring keyboardist) are doing reasonably well. A greatest hits album is on its merry way, they are in the midst of a proper national tour of medium-sized venues and such is their live exuberance that if they breathe the air of defeat, they have the decency not to share it.

Although they have no truck with frippery or gimmicks other than wearing suits and ties, there was always more to The Bluetones than Britpop's restrictive harness.

Mark and Scott, the Morriss brothers, harmonise divinely across the chunky Bluetonic and the big choruses of the opener, 1998's Solomon Bites The Worm, their most recent Top 10 entry.

Better yet, although Mudslide is almost pub rock, they embrace variety and pacing. For every conventional rocker such as Marblehead Johnson, there's a depth charge in the shape of the acoustic strum of Autophilia (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love My Car); After Hours, a honky-tonk evocation of late-night drinking or the ballad of lust that is Sleazy Bed Track.

Mid-set, they even rattle through Barbra Streisand's Woman In Love, without irony and without changing the gender.

Although he says little save a few breathless 'thank yous', Mark Morriss is a polite, engaging frontman with the mannerisms of a less punchable Jarvis Cocker and the swagger of Cocktail-era Tom Cruise.

He works hard enough to spawn a giant sweat patch on his back and his distinctive voice is in fine fettle as he leads the testosterone-laden crowd through a singalong of 4-Day Weekend; yet he lacks the spark of the genuinely charismatic and, as such, weaker material such as The Last Of the Great Navigators slips by in a blobby blur.

Alas, The Bluetones' one moment of incontrovertible greatness is also their undoing. Slight Return, their biggest hit of all, is a marvellous, life-affirming, multi-chorused anthem, even if it is rendered rather too briskly.

Unfortunately it's so superior to the rest of their material, even the jaunty Are You Blue Or Are You Blind and the epic squall of If..., that by comparison anything else can only be an anti-climax. How very cruel pop music can be.


John Aizlewood

The GuardianTramp

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