Album Review: James Righton – The Performer

By Live4ever - Posted on 16 Mar 2020 at 9:29am

The Performer

It’s not an experience everyone will be familiar with, but retaining your identity in any relationship can sometimes feel like a huge deal, especially when you’re a piece of the jigsaw that looks, to the outside world, smaller than the other.

James Righton was co-founder of the Klaxons, leaders of the modish nu-rave scene in the mid-noughties and who flickered briefly before stalling and eventually splitting up after the disappearance of their third album Love Freezes in 2015.

By that point he already had a different kind of profile to get used to, that of being Mr. Keira Knightly, an appellation which will certainly help if your life goals stop at being in every issue of Hello!, but of limited use for a once famousish musician in their own right.

Duality is an often mis-used term, but it applies to The Performer both in the titular song – in which Righton attempts to reconcile the demands of pushing yourself as entertainment whilst spending twenty-two hours a day being a husband and father – and of the idea of being distinct from, and independent of, anyone else’s shadow. With its Rhodes-heavy opening notes a dead ringer for the intro to Foreigner’s As Cold As Ice, like much the rest of this new-brewed material it draws on the troubadour vibes of the 1970s as its main point of reference.

At times, the frequent journeys to Laurel Canyon irk – especially on the slightly laboured Are You With Me? and Lessons In Dreamland, Pt. 2’s sleepy inertia – but the task is doggedly stuck to, ably assisted by, amongst others, one-time Klaxons producer James Ford.

There was a tendency for music from this era to spiritually be cocaine bloated and empty, but The Performer contains a surprising amount of anger and an elevated meta-conversation which the often starry melodies gloss over. The saddling up is bold: Heavy Heart is a desultory requiem for the UK’s now-shattered relationship with Europe, while See The Monster dissects a nation of people cowering behind metaphorical barricades in the wake of the Brexit vote. This ugly character warping also extends to Devil Is Loose, which draws at length on imagery inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s darkly satirical comedy on authoritarianism, The Master And Margarita.

Anger and confusion are Britain’s default settings now and for a long time to come, but there’s always a yearning amongst the audience to become more intimate with their subject, to know things. It’s here that the innocence and tenderness of the singer’s more personal experiences conjure up his best material, with the sparkling tenderness of Edie – a song about his daughter – and the relationship day zero pop of Start proof that people still sing best about people.

Name your cliché, be it keeping it real or staying true to yourself, The Performer is the record James Righton wanted to make, full of idiosyncrasies and blissfully short on modern tokenism. Interesting rather than thrilling for the most part, it comes most alive when we hear from his existence behind the make-up and bright lights.


Andy Peterson

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