Nerina Pallot - Manchester Academy 2

“This is a song about shagging.”*

There’s a moment in tonight’s performance (and, for once, this is a performance), specifically during the searing ‘Heart Attack’, where you simply forget that the prodigiously gifted Nerina Pallot is, for once, totally naked. (Sans band, n’est ce pas ?) Bare, exposed, six acoustic strings her only cover, she makes the pounding throb of her album recording sound tremulous and timid by comparison. Nerina Pallot, you will, of course, know through her semi-hit ‘Everybody’s Gone to War’. For non-converts, think of her radio calling card as you would of any artist whose deeper repertoire eclipses their breakthrough hit : ‘Lovefool’, ‘The One I Love’, whatever. Know also that the debut album no-one bought, 2001’s ‘Dear Frustrated Superstar’, shines several stars brighter than its 2005 follow-up ‘Fires’. One can sympathise. Tonight she admits, during one of several rambling, pithy, funny-as-f***, asides, she’s only just learning to love ‘DFS’ (oh no !) again. So, over 75 minutes tonight, Nerina plays just three songs from that album. Maybe she needs the juice of a band to pull them off, maybe she’s currently more in thrall to her newer stuff. Whatever, she gives us ‘Blood is Blood’, a delicate ‘Dapne and Apollo’ and the elegaic title track at the electric piano. ‘Fires’ dominates and though, to these ears, it still doesn’t burn throughout, doesn’t sing with the joyful laissez-faire and naïve bonhomie of its predecessor, sounds a tad over-worked, she samples it smartly. She kicks off with the dusty melodrama of ‘Idaho’, we are hooked and reverie gives way to rapture.

“This song isn’t about shagging ... it’s about death.” **

To be fair, if I’d produced an insightful, colourful debut album that the world ignored and then went and re-mortgaged my house in order to make another, I’d maybe play it a little safe. All things considered, its less compelling moments aren’t bad … stripped down, ‘All Good People’ (acoustic guitar tonight) is at least admirably, lovingly crafted. ‘Everybody’s Gone to War’, well, she acknowledges that without it she wouldn’t be here tonight … but I confess, I can live without it's watery polemic.

“Are you having fun ? Really ? Are you having fun fun ?” ***

So, triumphs ? ‘Geek Love’, with the sexiest chorus ever written by man or woman, is impassioned. ‘Damascus’ and ‘Sophia’, fervent and fiery, pump the corpuscles. ‘Idaho’, all windswept yearning, sets the tone. And, hey, what a joy to see someone with half a personality reveal some of it onstage for once. I can’t remember the last time I saw a singer bloody take the trouble to talk so much between songs. Seriously, if all this goes tits-up (fingers crossed, unlikely now), our girl could make a decent living doing stand-up. Amongst several memorable discourses is a five minute skit on fame (“It really pisses me off that still no-one recognises me in public”), booze (“I’ve made a strong resolution and I’m sticking to it – just one bottle of wine a day”) and an ardent outburst where she talks about a review of her last Manchester gig which criticised her arrogance : “What’s all that about ? I get nervous and start to ramble but that’s cos I’m arrogant ? I’m dying inside up here !”

Hey, come on, what a star. I still can’t properly love this album but ... but as a singer, as a writer, as a performer, none of her alleged peers can touch her. As much as comparisons serve little purpose, yes, she reminds me a little bit of Sarah McLachlan at times but, more tellingly, I think of Joni. Not because she just happens to be a woman who sings and plays the piano but because when she releases the sweeter, honeyed part of her beautiful voice, her languorous delivery brings to mind ‘For the Roses’, the queen’s most summery album and a recommended stopping off point for those of you waiting for that third album. Talking of which, I’d love to think that the confidence with which she’ll approach that record might see her slip off the rails just a little. Certainly her dextrous reading of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear us Apart’ tonight suggests darker leanings. After this ballsy, brave, bravura performance she’d be justified in just sitting smugly grinning for a fortnight. Let’s hope that this time she really is on her way. Forgive her her occasionally dazzling but often water-treading album; she’s far, far more intriguing and unusual than it suggests, but hey … Sophia, so good.

* ‘Geek Love’
** ‘Mr King’
*** Oh yes.

Last updated: 19/04/2018 03:19:12

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