Perhaps reflecting his time spent in France, the sound of Borrell 1 features lots of rinky-tink piano, languid saxophone, and precious little guitar at all. It's more redolent of chanson, a sort of Latin-skiffle flavour, MOR and even music hall than actual rock'n'roll, with hammered piano triplets carrying the single “Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina)” and the antique R&B croon of “Cannot Overthrow”.
Originally recorded on a home four-track machine, the songs were subsequently re-done with Trevor Horn at the helm, which has applied a little polish to what still sound like under-written sketches rather than compelling pop material. As Borrell himself sings in the concluding “Erotic Letter”, “I heard some words and music, but it didn't sound much like a song”.
At the other end of the album, his mannered delivery of the feminist anthem “Power to the Woman” recalls Cockney Rebel, and there's a mild “Wild Horses” vibe about the piano and acoustic guitar of “Ladder to Your Bed” – though the falsetto doubling of parts of Borrell's vocal is off-putting. But the tack-piano and rolling percussion groove of “Cyrano Masochiste” imbue a rollicking charm that almost compensates for its ghastly title.
Otherwise, it's slim pickings, leading one to suspect the new-look Razorlight may be back in the studio rather earlier than expected.
The first work under his own name most certainly isn’t a return to Razorlight’s ‘glory’ days - instead it’s an expansion on where they may have been going next - round the twist.
And this is where the trouble lies. ‘Borrell 1’ isn’t a great album. It’s probably not even good, but it’s definitely committed. The titles of its songs set the scene perfectly. ‘Power To The Woman’ or ‘Pan European Supermodel Song’ may cause rubbernecking from their names alone, but musically they more than live up to their madcap billing. Like Dexys Midnight Runners coated in Reggae Reggae sauce, Johnny’s been feelin’ the rhythm.
But here’s the thing; by being so self assured, Borrell has made a record that’s genuinely interesting. There’s no chance of him bottling out. At no point is there compromise or a fear of looking ridiculous. More baffling than it is enjoyable, often it manages to be both.
All of which leaves a complicated juxtaposition. ‘Borrell 1’ is at no point a record to recommend. Musically confused, frequently lyrically painful (closer ‘Erotic Letter’ needs to be heard to be believed), its ego is so overpowering it ends up as a sweet relief against a backdrop of po-faced, fence sitting peers. Not that it matters what anyone else thinks. Johnny knows he’s right in the end.