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The Return of Razorlight: Titans in the Limelight

Just over ten years ago, on a dry August night in 2007, Razorlight headlined Tennants Vital in Ormeau Park. Back then, they played to an estimated crowd of 15,000 people.

This Wednesday will see them play to a much more modest crowd of 750 in a sold-out Limelight. So what’s happened in all that time? And does the contrast in gigs come down to an unconventionally intimate tour or is it a case of rockers past their prime?

First Up: The Frontman

Razorlight have always been known for their slick UK brand of indie pop/rock, standing out in the mid noughties alongside contemporaries like The Kooks, The Zutons, and the Kaiser Chiefs.

What I wasn’t aware of back in 2007 is that they were also known for frontman Johnny Borrell’s apparently unflinching sense of self-worth. Between declaring himself the “best songwriter of [his] generation” and regarding Bob Dylan as “making the chips” compared to the “drinking the champagne” of Razorlight, Borrell certainly drummed up an egotistical persona. And of course let’s not forget the chest-bearing v-necks.

To Borrell though, this was him behaving as what he thought a musician should and often laments that the media takes his words out of context. He does acknowledge however, that at one point he saw Razorlight as a cultural tour-de-force that existed as a blob of popularity.

It seems he has since humbled though. Hopefully he has; as although Razorlight’s musical return with their first album in a decade is very much faithful to their earlier sounds, the indie pop/rock welcome party has all grown up.

The Hiatus and Resurrection

You may be asking yourself why we’re talking about Borrell so much, he’s only one part of the band? And the answer is that he’s also the only original member of the band still involved. Around 2010, Razorlight began to fall to pieces, starting with the departure of drummer Andy Burrows. After that came an eventful recording session which ended with the rest of the core band leaving Borrell by his lonesome. This was the catalyst for Razorlight’s shaky near ten-year hiatus as Borrell then went-off to pursue his own solo career.

Though the band still occasionally played a gig here and there, it took a decade for a follow-up to 2008’s underperforming – and under-appreciated – Slipway Fires. The creative hiatus ended when Borrell met guitarist David Ellis and was able to snag Martin Chambers of The Pretenders to hop on the drums. From this we have the grand return and the delivery of Olympus Sleeping.

Enter Olympus Sleeping

And it is a very nice, and as was said faithful, return. Lead singles such as ‘Got to Let the Good Times Back into Your Life’ and ‘Japanrock’ capture the raw energy prevalent in 2004’s debut; while ‘Iceman’ resurrects the sense of space and fragility found in mega-hit ‘America’ and Slipway Fires’ ‘Wire to Wire’.

There are a few major twists that lie below Borrell’s weirdly unique vocal style though. The frontman explored a myriad of styles during their hiatus, even following the classic singer-songwriter path of getting in touch with African music a-la Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. This exploration has led to Olympus Sleeping paying close attention to rhythm, and combined with its raw sound it has lead to some of the quirkiest hooks in Razorlight’s catalogue.

Razorchild’ grips the listener with a bounce and twirl of a riff, while ‘Brighton Pier’ swings around with an easy-going carousel. On the other hand, ‘Carry Yourself’ could be confused for a Two Door Cinema Club tune with its bright tone and discobeat; being one of the most confusing, but still great, moments on the album.

All-in-all the new album feels like a step down from stardom and a step closer to humanity for the band. It certainly feels very personal and more immediate than its predecessors.

So Why Limelight?

In regards to whether this current tour is a sign of intimacy or people past their prime, it honestly comes across a bit of both. Olympus Sleeping is some of Razorlight’s most honest and adventurous recordings, but they’ve been released in a musical climate dominated by trap music.

It’s one which has seen other spawn of the UK indie-pop/rock scene develop into almost unrecognisable versions of themselves with Arctic Monkeys releasing strange 70s sci-fi rock, and The Fratellis with their 80s tinged keys and sugary sweet hooks.

Past their prime isn’t to say Johnny Borrell and the crew have artistically peaked, but rather that their current sound isn’t breaking barriers. It’s harkening back to ten years ago.

The meat of Razorlight’s return is nostalgic, it’s energetic, and it’s a good time. Olympus Sleeping is utterly fun, but that was the plan. At the end of the day, those that have a golden touch on a ticket for this upcoming gig are bound for something special.

Regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, having arena headliners like Razorlight return to play this intimate show is something that will surely be one to remember!

Razorlight / Wed 20 Feb 2019 / The Limelight, Belfast / Tickets

Music man from Belfast. Playing instruments like an amateur and loving movies and games. Currently listening to: Car Seat Headrest/ King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard/ That Handsome Devil