Johnny Borrell - Borrell 1

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2013-07-22

These are confusing times for all right-thinking, Borrell-hating music fans. Why? Well, firstly there's the news that the arrogant prick's debut solo album has sold a paltry 594 copies in its first week of release, missing out of the album chart top 100. To which you might say: "Ha ha, serves the big-headed, talentless tosser right. I always hated him, him and his punchable face and God-awful white trousers." And usually I would agree with you, and we would have a laugh and then put on some Can or something.

But two things make this different. Firstly, Borrell is now the cocky underdog, a figure I usually root for in pop music. That alone, however, wouldn't mean much (what with this being - yuck! - Borrell we're talking about) if it wasn't for fact two: his debut, the bile-inducingly named Borrell 1, is actually pretty bloody good.

I know, I know. Clutch your peals to your chest and I'll fetch the smelling salts. Trust me, I would love to hate this album. Unfortunately, I can't because Borrell has improbably managed to confect a record of lovely, defense-melting chamber pop full of soulful sax, innovative, Latin-flavoured rhythms, sideways, knowing glances and cheeky lyrics which sort of show some measure of self-awareness, such as this on 'Cyrano Masochiste': "I am the masochist/ You are a narcissist/ Ain't you glad I exist?"

It's really baffling. Why haven't we seen this side of Borrell before? I never even caught a glimpse that he was capable of such unforced, tuneful eccentricity. Borrell 1 calls to mind both early Sparks and early Associates on its opening duo, the knock-kneed and very catchy 'Power to the Woman' and 'Joshua Amrit'. Meanwhile, on standout 'Ladder to Your Bed', he even manages to pull off some perfect Roxy Music balladry, simultaneously sumptuous and tongue-in-cheek. It's truly lovely.

Not everything works. Generally the slower songs grate a little. Doo-wop tinged ballads 'Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina)', 'Dahlia Rondo' and 'We Cannot Overthrow' drag and run out of steam pretty quickly, Borrell making the fatal mistake of trying to genuinely emote, something he should never do as it just makes him too thumpable. I don't want real emotion from this man. It's like listening to General Pinochet complain about having to do the washing up while under house-arrest.

Ultimately, however, Borrell 1 is a triumph of songwriting eccentricity over bland indie-rock-by-numbers bilge, exactly the kind of crap that clogged up the charts in the mid-00s and of which Borrell was one the worst proponents. There's nothing on this album to suggest the music he's making now is anything other than heartfelt and joyful. He's certainly not doing it to claw back his fame, judging by those album sales.

So if Borrell is capable of music of this quality, why did he spend so many years peddling potboiler MOR crud? Just to get famous? I wonder if he thinks it was worth it, now he's pretty much a national laughing stock.

Still, dismal sales aside, I hope he gets another crack at a solo album. The funky and weird highlights on Borrell 1 are light-years ahead of anything his 00s rock revolution peers have released for a long time. It's a daring and bold leap of creativity and, artistically at least, it's paid off. Who the hell would have thought we'd be saying that about Johnny Fucking Borrell?

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