Later With Jools Holland: Mellow (Warner Music Vision)
Thered have to be a pretty compelling reason for me to consider polluting my DVD shelves with the name of Mr Smug Pants himself, but well get to it. In the meantime, consider that Later With Jools Holland: Mellow proffers 30 great live performances from some of the worlds coolest artists incidentally, when did you last see coolest being used as an adjective, daddio? or, from my perspective, a collection of clips Ive spent my last decade of Later watching fast-forwarding through.
Proceedings open on Goldfrapp, who seem unnervingly akin to a glitter-speckled Yazoo heck, Allison even seems to be wearing Vince Clarkes hair. Shivarees gumbo Portishead is an unexpected mediumlight, but KT Tunstall, Groove Armada, Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Rae, Mobys stadium-sized positivity and Didos guileless, cuddly toy Hallmark pop are so unerringly pleasant theyre verging on offensive. Hipster gramps Burt Bacharach and young buck Rufus Wainwright shatter the tranquillity, Go Ask Shakespeare being simultaneously silky smooth and breathlessly dynamic; heck, its complete even before Rufus eventually pipes up.
There must be a reason Im subjecting myself to this visual comfort blanket, and it arrives in the form of possibly the ropiest Tinseltown In The Rain The Blue Nile have ever committed to posterity. It sounds rushed and nervous, a thin synth sound a poor substitute for the album versions real strings, Paul Buchanan gripping both barely played guitar and microphone for support. (Isnt that, like, highly dangerous?) Even his repeated Yeah ad libs towards the close sound defeated. And yet and yet it eats every other song here for breakfast. (Incidentally, the juxtaposition of this clip and one of Lizz Wright taped nearly ten years later cruelly exposes how the quality of these recordings presumably all captured to the highest BBC standards of the time has improved over the years.)
Theres more suffocating pleasantry from the wobbly-headed David Gray, Zero 7 and Sade, but Nitin Sawhney at least attempts to break out of the conceptually imposed stupor with some Whats Going On-style social commentary on Rainfall, and Björks Joga is both bonkers and brilliant, just a string section and her strident sirens call of a voice. Beth Gibbons & Rustin Mans Mysteries wears an exquisite, snake-hipped ache, surely at least a contender for the saddest music in the world. The beat-matching zooms that introduce Massive Attacks Teardrop are a rare concession to visual gimmickry. Ironically, this is one of few performances here that hardly needs embellishment; its already got Liz Frasers encoded Celtic gurgle and the rumble of the Massive at their peak.
James Blunt, on the other hand, is positively odious, a Weeble wailing comically crass lyrics like I know you well/I know your smell. In an uncharacteristically imaginative piece of programming, his black clad/black piano/studio corner performance is immediately followed by Antony And The Johnsons black clad/black piano/studio corner performance of Hope Theres Someone. Both exactly the same and completely different, it turns Blunts wobbly banality completely on its head and wrests something poignant out of it and Antony does a pretty good Nina Simone for a white boy.
Similarly expectation-defying is the unsettling queasy listening of Tindersticks No More Affairs. Haunted by the spectre of HIV Climbed into bed with our previous lovers/It gets crowded in there - Stuart Staples rocks back and forth, eyes closed, living the lyric like some underground Bryan Ferry, driven on towards his doom by a black-clad string section. Annie Lennox props up the flimsy Wonderful with a belting, blue-eyed soul vocal performance what price an Annie In Memphis-style reinvention? Morcheebas Part Of The Process is inoffensively percolated coffee table drip-hop - shouldnt there be some Air or Moloko here as well, by rights?
Mellow is not a word thats usually found in the same sentence as Mercury Rev, but their inclusion here demonstrates how theyve, hmmm, evolved since their wibbly, David Baker-fronted years. It might be the fashion to bash them these days, The Dark Is Rising representing the tipping point of their post-Deserters Songs freefall to fluffy predictability, but its a work of white light wonder here. Rather less so is the closing Trisha Yearwood and Bonnie Raitt duet (with Holland looking all reverential perched between them at the piano) on Feel Like Going Home, which practically suffocates with its rootsy good taste.
Good taste being something that pervades this collection, to its detriment. There are moments of utter magic here - and for me no amount of James Blunt-induced suffering could be too high a price to extract for a few minutes of The Blue Nile but nothing to persuade me that in ten years of timeshifting Later... with my finger hovering above the fast forward button I was being overly harsh in my judgement.