After their eponymous second album went five times platinum, Razorlight have “surpassed themselves” with latest effort Slipway Fires, or so guitarist Bjorn Agren tells Paul Fennessy.
‘‘I really really wish I could be somewhere else’’, sang Johnny Borrell on Razorlight’s debut album. It is unlikely you would ever hear such wistful lyrics from the band nowadays, given that they currently can do no wrong.
The release of monster hit ‘America’ prompted success beyond the wildest dreams of a band who were initially dismissed as Libertines copyists.
Consequently, one could imagine record company executives virtually queuing up to offer advice on how to play it safe with the new album and consolidate the success which Razorlight earned them.
‘‘I think that’s the most dangerous thing that can happen is to start thinking “Oh my God! Is this going to sell well? Are people going to hate it, or are people going to love it?’ You just have to block all of that out,’’ explains Bjorn Agren in a confident, matter-of-fact tone.
Although Slipway Fires unsurprisingly contains many of the elements which long term fans have come to associate with the band’s sound- anthemic choruses, a loud-quiet-loud musical dynamic and unapologetically romantic lyrics, yet the album is distinctive enough not to be rendered a Razorlight rehash.
‘‘On the first album, you’re having fun making music,’’ affirms Agren. ‘‘And then on the second one, you have to prove that you’re not just a flash in the pan. I think that’s why the second album is more like a singles collection than an album. But on this one, we have to show that we’ve a bit more depth. It’s more like an old school album. But the weird thing is, we’ve never said a word about any of this, it has all come out naturally.’’
Agren also extols some of the virtues which their burgeoning success has allowed them to enjoy, namely the freedom to experiment more. The guitarist details how album work was performed on the basis of shifts. While the other three Razorlight members spent the day in the studio, Agren worked on the guitar parts during the night.
He subsequently notes his relief at the fact that other members neglected to baulk at his propensity for conceiving of such ambitious arrangements. ‘‘[I thought] they’re just going to come in the next day and think, what the fuck have you been doing? That’s ridiculous! This is like five guitars!’ Then you’d go to bed and wake up the next day and I’d have a text message from everybody going ‘what the fuck is this, this is amazing’. So yeah it’s really insane. I mean I never thought I’d be able to do a kind of Godspeed You Black Emperor influenced guitar, but it’s on there and it works and everybody loved it.’’
Their recent elevation in status has also enabled them to proceed with other prototypical rock star adventures, such as playing sold-out stadium gigs and cavorting with famous filmmakers.
Acclaimed British director, Stephen Frears helmed the video for ‘Wire To Wire’, the opening single off their new album. Agren describes how this collaboration was an unusual, but ultimately satisfactory creative endeavour.
‘‘Funnily enough, he was probably the least articulate director that we’ve ever worked with,’’ he reveals. ‘‘He gives you these loose instructions and then everything comes out looking really good. Not that I was in the video much. But yeah, he was just a weird guy really. But I think directors, like musicians, have to be a bit weird.’’
“I think directors, like musicians, have to be a bit weird”
Evidently, Razorlight are now more or less on a par, at least in terms of popularity, with other indie-cum-stadium rock acts, such as Keane and Coldplay.
However, the band were not always held in such high regard. Prior to their second album, they were often accused of merely jumping on the band wagon of the Strokes inspired garage rock-revolution.
Moreover, Johnny Borrell occasionally exacerbated the less than warm reception afforded to Razorlight upon their arrival on the music scene. The flamboyant lead singer produced not so much statements of intent, as opposed to grand declarations that simply failed to align themselves with reality.
Infamously, the self professed ‘best songwriter’ of his generation once bragged: ‘‘Put it this way, compared to the Razorlight album, Dylan is making chips, I’m drinking the champagne.’’
Agren smiles wryly, when recalling these controversy courting words: ‘‘I like funny quotes, because obviously, they’re not very serious. The funny thing is how you pull out these quotes and they get taken totally out of context. In a way he was serious, but he wasn’t talking about the entire song canon of Bob Dylan in comparison with his own very modest song canon at the time. He was talking about Bob Dylan’s first album which is nine covers and one original, as opposed to our first album, which was all originals. But that wasn’t mentioned, it was just the quote.’’
While Razorlight have a long way to go if they seek to attain similar status to the worlds most renowned troubadour, Slipway Fires indicates they are now more than capable of justifying their own self hype.