Kane - What If
Whilst Pop Idol and Popstars on ITV are unashamedly commercial in their fiddling with pop classics, the BBC's Fame Academy is a little more pious in its nodding towards a responsibility to those who pay a licence fee, which is almost all of us with the exception of monks, hermits and a man I once met on the Isle of Skye who lives on tree bark and roadkill. So as the Pop Idol contestants sang happy with covers of pop standards - are you listening Gareth Gates - those on Fame Academy sang songs by The Strokes, rare gems by The Bee Gees and actually wrote their own material.
Of course, Fame Academy did offer the sight of Peter, dressed like Dennis Pennis and singing Pulp but his stiff Britpop shake was only a touch more indie than Alex, Alistair and James and a sign of how indie-label pop had dripped into the mainstream. Unfortunately, that's not Throbbing Gristle, The Jesus And Mary Chain or Sonic Youth indie but there's a subtle influence of Blur, Pulp, The Stone Roses and Oasis that's come into the albums of Kristian Leontiou, Jason Downs and now this, the debut album from Kane.
Whilst the front cover gives the impression that Kane is a solo artist - singer/songwriter Dinand Woesthoff, one assumes - whereas the inner sleeve shows five members of a band onstage and shot in grainy black-and-white. As the photos doubtless hope to impress upon the listener the feeling of authenticity and of a connection to the blues/rock of the Southern states of the US, much as U2 hoped for with the release of Rattle And Hum, such hopes disperse as soon as the album opens and pop with a slight touch of indie drifts out of the speakers. Even before Rain Down On Me opens the album, the impression is of it being closer to the earnest, indifferent music of Travis than steamy Memphis rock, an impression that lasts throughout the album. There being a Tiesto remix of Rain Down On Me certainly doesn't help but at least its club rhythms offer a brief respite from the relaxed pop of the rest of the album.
There are good songs on What If, showing that Dinand Woesthoff can write a neat pop hook and whilst his lyrics too often fall into cliche, then there is simply more space for the better songs to slip through and be noticed. It is a pity, however, that the album starts in such an ordinary manner with the first six songs passing in a blur of loud guitars, gentle verses fading into loud choruses and Woesthoff's hoarse voice but absolutely nothing stands out. Even when a song begins well, such as So Glad You Made It, it's only a matter of seconds before Kane's very ordinary rock strains through the mix. Yet on the seventh song, Head Down, the album starts to prove itself with a bleak, slightly upsetting verse before, for the first time on the album, Kane works to avoid looking towards straight rock. Good though this is, however, it's the last two songs that work best - Before You Let Me Go and Our Hearts Will Beat As One - that are tender where previous songs are blustering, heartbreaking where others are only ordinary.
Yet no matter the eight TMF awards, including 2004's Best Rock Award, and the two MTV gongs for Best Dutch Act, What If is occasionally good but simply not strong enough to stand out. When major labels are too obvious in grooming an act for success, an album like this is the result and in coming out alongside Kristian Leontiou and Jason Downs, it's simply nothing out of the ordinary.