fri 26/02/2021

James Morrison, O2 Shepherd's Bush | reviews, news & interviews

James Morrison, O2 Shepherd's Bush

James Morrison, O2 Shepherd's Bush

Live-show charisma lifts anodyne material

James Morrison: boy-next-door sex appeal

James Morrison has spent several years out of the limelight, with family difficulties to attend to. Would age and experience give the gravelly soul-pop star’s soft-focus romantic ballads sharper edges on his return? The underwhelmed reviews of his recent fourth album, Higher Than Here, suggested not, but last night’s live show, in a swaying, crooning, heaving Shepherd’s Bush Empire, showed an astute, modestly charismatic performer, and a warm embrace of a gig.

James Morrison has spent several years out of the limelight, with family difficulties to attend to. Would age and experience give the gravelly soul-pop star’s soft-focus romantic ballads sharper edges on his return? The underwhelmed reviews of his recent fourth album, Higher Than Here, suggested not, but last night’s live show, in a swaying, crooning, heaving Shepherd’s Bush Empire, showed an astute, modestly charismatic performer, and a warm embrace of a gig.

Higher Than Here has only been out a few weeks, and it showed in the crowd’s choral reticence, so it was important to mix things up, the new songs blended skillfully with established favourites. Somehow, with a full band and backing singers, the blandness of songs like “I Won’t Let You Go”, or “You Give Me Something” seems inoffensive, the warmth of the singalong distracting from the mundane sentiments. There has, meanwhile, been some attempt at novelty with the latest material. “Stay Like This” has effective touches of funky synth, some bluesy attitude from the singers, and more energy from the drums than many of his earlier songs. “Something Right” and “Too Late For Lullabies” don’t stray from the comfort zone, but do create a beautiful, melancholic part for his rasping vocals.

He quickly exposed the limits of his range, however. “Demons”, the lead single from the latest album, has a squealing, grime-psych-rock introduction entirely at odds with Morrison’s amiable sound, and the attempt at menace is misplaced. The modest rock beat of “Shadow Of A Dream”, meanwhile, is too much for Morrison’s soft vocals, and live he just doesn’t carry sufficiently. Like it or not, soul-pop suits him musically, and the latest set of lyrics are a little more substantial than previous releases.

The writing might often be lukewarm, but as a live gig, there are moments when he’s almost hot

There’s something about Morrison’s unassuming, largely unselfconscious popularity that gets under critics’ skin, because for a likeable performer who can write, and sing, he gets some stinkers. The Independent recently looked down its nose at his “fanbase of unimaginative listeners”, while The Guardian commented, on 2008’s Songs for You, Truths for Me, that “despite looking as if he has been cloned from cell scrapings taken from Chris Martin and James Blunt, Morrison has neither the former's quivering anxiety nor the latter's creepy streak, thus attaining a level of blandness that is almost zen”. Yet his ability to conjure mood – albeit a fuzzy, sentimental one – is impressive. He is a substantial performing talent.  

There are some clever bits of stagecraft. He appears on stage wearing a chunky, tailored leather jacket, which he wears until the T-shirt underneath reaches a perfect state of nipple-clinging moistness. It’s a well-worked routine, but he manages to appear shocked at the delighted yells. At other times he reaches out to hold hands with the front row, and the set is nicely punctuated with little anecdotes – well told, self-deprecating and witty. These add valuable human interest to the recorded vibe which can, even for fans, sound a bit sterile.

Last night’s show demonstrated that Morrison’s voice – the rasp a result of childhood whooping cough – doesn’t really have the power to rock, and sounds a bit too woolly for solo ballads. And it’s definitely not suited to grime experiments like “Demons”. But the full-band soul-pop arrangements, to which he adds a touch of swing, funk, or Motown, sound pretty good. He doesn’t break new ground, exactly, but he cultivates what there is very nicely. (It hasn’t done Adele any harm.) The writing might often be lukewarm, but as a live gig, there are moments when he’s almost hot.  

He doesn’t break new ground, exactly, but he cultivates what there is very nicely

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters