Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Short changed

Whatever happens for the rest of tonight, and over Friday, the frenzied final weeks of the election campaign have largely flattered to deceive. For all the bright yellow sunshine of the Liberal Democrats' false dawn, very little change has been seen - and is likely to be seen - to challenge the usual political suspects.

It's not really Nick Clegg's fault. Given a podium on national television three weeks in a row, the country warmed to the impassioned, reasoned and (frankly) MOR performance from the calm, clean cut new face of British politics. Three months ago, he wasn't even the foremost political party leader called Nick, and suddenly he was the second coming, the real alternative, the answer to years of Conservative and Labour gridlock.

For about 15 minutes. After Clegg's surprise popularity spike following the ITV debate - a bit like winning over undecided Sun readers - Cameron and Brown spent the next week drawing level with Clegg, offering him a seat at the top table, and then promptly dropped him from their gang the week after, when the two main party leaders locked horns in front of the biggest television audience yet.

And despite the continued public favour for Clegg and the Lib Dems, into the last week of campaigning the press followed Cameron and Brown instead, relentlessly. Unfortunate pictures of the Tory leader, unfortunate recordings of the Labour leader, it remained that Cameron and Brown drove the headlines, and spent the last days of the campaign prior to election day obliterating Nick Clegg's slowing hype-train.

What had given Clegg his spotlight was, it appeared, the sort of smooth-talking, persona-based party leadership that earned Cameron such derision not so many months before. All very well talking the talk, but where were the policies? It was on policy where Clegg lost his way in the third televised debate. His defence policy was attacked on all sides, his European stance washy. The immigration views, when pressed, was eyebrow-raising. A case of not enough, and much too late.

But the response at large to the familiar TV format - like a mix between The Weakest Link and Question Time - caused the overreaction. The glamour of the television screen, so instilled in American political history, yet so conflicting with the very different British system, widely misrepresented the strength of serious backing behind the Liberal Democrats that the impressed viewers seemed to be gushing forth. Anyone wholeheartedly convinced by the debates' influence over voter attitudes is going to be mightily let down come Friday morning.

As the night's gone on, the failure of the Lib Dems to obtain any ground on the major two parties augments the disappointingly small shift in the playing field at this election. While the hype surrounding 'Cleggmania' among the online column inches grew, none of it, it seems, has transferred into hard political evidence. And though the television debates may have engaged with a wider band of the electorate, increasing voter turnout and, it could be argued, furthering democracy, the only picture that remains now is one of slight confusion. The fresh start seemed a great idea in theory, but very little of it has been put into practice.

What change there is suggests a clear turn away from 13 years' hard Labour. It looks unlikely that there will be a majority victory for any party, but in the serious business of politics, the only shift worth checking will be just how wide a margin the Conservatives have gained over Labour. Their 'vote for change' campaign might be tainted by naysayers who affect to be unable to differentiate between the parties' policies, but by promoting future change, instead of warning of past problems, the Conservative party just might get their opportunity to start implementing it.

The Rebs launch debut album 'In A Heartbeat'

For a band whose star is in the ascendancy, The Brook in Southampton gives independently signed acts like The Rebs something of a natural pedestal on which to stand and survey their audience. The place is full to the rafters, literally, as the first floor balcony is jam-packed: eager locals ready to consume the Southampton band's invigorating indie/electro-pop songs. But the stage, you see, is raised a good five feet from the floor, forcing the crowd to gaze up at its occupants - whether they like it or not.

This is, you suspect, how The Rebs prefer it. They're no strangers to limelight, having come good in 2008's Road To V competition and opening the festival for Kaiser Chiefs, The Zutons and The Courteeners, and winning two Exposure Music Awards for Best Pop Song and Best Overall Song in the last 18 months. On first glance though, they're a curious bunch: guitar-wielding frontman Russell Edmonds is almost transatlantic in his good looks, as though forged at the height of Strokes and New York garage rock fever. The beaming bassist, Nader Rezaie, seems much more laid back with his elongated basslines and falling black locks, while Vicki Averre-Beeson hops about behind her Korgs, lost in the atmosphere and stabbing out synth melodies. Sticksman Sim Cracknell provides big bouncing rhythms, also wearing a large grin throughout the night.

The night's main event is to see The Rebs entertain, and they come out in buoyant mood, visibly excited to impress the crowd on this, their début album launch. Taking the unusual step of playing through the tracklisting in order, the crowd are treated to the full Rebs repertoire; the best of their blossoming catalogue causing some of the avid audience to break in to chants of 'Reb Army!'. The army deal, primarily, in thumping pop rock, the attitude of Edmonds's driving guitars balanced out by a series of knock-out choruses. Début single 'Don't Fool Yourself' is exemplary, a punchy mid-tempo affair that throws in the night's main foot-stamping, sing-a-long moment.

The Rebs appear to have taken their cues from that golden early to mid-00s period, their widescreen indie reminding of Hot Fuss-era Killers - see 'Superman' - and early Franz Ferdinand. Despite any misgivings that sentence may have just stirred in you, live, it still works, thanks to the full throttle treatment it gets from the confident foursome. Standout moment is the fast-paced 'Would I Remember', forceful but irresistibly catchy - perfect summer festival stuff - while sort of title track 'Always in a Heartbeat' spears numerous synth lines across a crashing rock backdrop to memorable effect. Even if it does draw comparisons with The Automatic.

What quickly becomes obvious is just how saturated the tracklist is with strong single potential. With a commendable motto on their MySpace - "Influences: artists with great songwriters - we like singles" - each song tries to pack in that classic sounding chorus, and most are successful. It's no mean feat building 11 songs to a fervent indie template, yet managing to produce almost as many pop choruses from the top shelf among them, and credit is due to The Rebs for this. A breather tonight, however, comes in the form of three acoustic tracks in succession, the band leaving Edmonds alone under the lights to amuse himself for 10 minutes. Not all of the acoustic numbers feature in the tracklisting, thankfully, but it's a disappointingly typical (or perhaps naive) début album tactic, including an obligatory 'quiet one', the supposedly introspective, deep track, and it doesn't quite sit with a band who for the main have canon of excellent songs that don't necessarily conform to the typical début album.

Nevertheless, tonight it's all about The Rebs collectively - an affirmation of their award-winning songwriting, the headrushing performance of their songs in the live arena; the strut of a band who've got something and believe they're ready to take it to the world. And if people start catching on, The Rebs just might come out on top.

Also avilable on God is in the TV