When Metropolis spoke to Carl Barat a few weeks back, he talked about, "stepping away from the big guitars" to create the music for his new solo album. Writing the songs on piano and using a musical template of balladry refracted through French cabaret, classical strings and one or two other genres, the album was a big departure from the typical rock stylings of previous groups The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things.
But making an album and going on stage are two different things. Guitar bands are ubiquitous for a reason, and that reason is ease of deployment. The instrument offers rough-and-ready control and a certain element of postural security that, say, someone with a harp, glockenspiel or theremin doesn't enjoy. So, when Carl Barat takes the stage for his support slot with the Manic Street Preachers, it's not tinkling ivories and gypsy violins to the fore, but rather the old road-tested format of guitars, bass and drums.
Not that he's abandoned his recent change of direction. That wouldn't be possible, as tonight's show is all about the tracks from the recent album. Just to prove it, there are a couple of string instruments stage right, and a switch on the Casio at the back that uncorks the sound of a grand piano from a circuit somewhere. Still, it's definitely the old rock-format instruments that have the upper hand as Carve My Name crawls out from under a squashing bass.
Next song The Magus, with its spacier mix of elements, comes across better. Barat's voice works hard but effectively to navigate the different moods, twists and turns that the song unleashes, while former Dirty Pretty Things stalwart and Klaxons journeyman guitarist Anthony Rossomando provides tasteful, understated promptings on the six-string.
Next up, the catchy torch ballad So Long My Lover gets off to a good start but then falls into a plodding rock groove, as does She's Something, a bright, effervescent song with an element of fragility. Halfway through, its brittle brilliance gives out like a light bulb and it loses its way. This underlines the problems of delivering songs that aren't really rock with what is–apart from a few trimmings–essentially a rock format.
The tensions this creates between the Rock Barat and the Non-Rock Barat are all blissfully swept away when the group ends a short set by plunging into the only song not off the new album, the jaunty, bustling Libertines classic Don’t Look Back into the Sun. A sparkling, streamlined and improved version, with great guitar lines, sends the band out on a high.
9 December, 2010