I‘ve always had a soft spot for the British indie band Razorlight. They are one of the better bands that formed out of the ashes of the post-Britpop years and continued with a tradition set in the 1990s by Blur, Suede, and Manic Street Preachers, of writing intelligent and catchy indie rock songs with a whiff of decadence and hedonism thrown in. Alongside their contemporaries The Liberties (and later Babyshambles), Maximo Park, Editors, Bloc Party, Tokyo Beatbox and The Enemy they provided a soundtrack to my own early adulthood, my second wind of mid-20s partying and drunk playfulness. If this era of mostly male musical creativity – and there was a hell of a lot of it – has now been labeled “landfill indie” by some critics then Razorlight at the very least stood atop of the dust and rubble.
Formed in 2002, the band’s debut record Up All Night (2004) peaked at number 3 in the UK album charts and included the top twenty singles Golden Touch, Vice, and Somewhere Else. This was when chart positions mattered, before the full advent and dominance of music streaming. The success of the band’s debut was duplicated and more so with the self-titled follow-up in 2006 landing at number one in the UK charts, while the single “America” also produced the band’s first number one single. Fortunes dwindled slightly with the band’s third record Slipway Fires (2008). Drummer Andy Burrows bailed in 2009 joining the band We Are Scientists and appearing as the suffering drummer in David Brent: Life on the Road (2016). The departure of bass player Carl Dalemo and guitarist Björn Ågren followed in 2011 and lead singer and lyricist Johnny Borrell released his solo record in 2013. The 2018 record, Olympus Sleeping, saw a revolving door of members in the recording and touring process with Borrell the only original member.
Directed by documentary filmmaker Ben Lowe, Razorlight: Fall to Pieces offers an intimate look back at the band’s rise to prominence in the early 2000s and an opportunity for the band members, now in their early forties, to reminisce, reconcile, and potentially reform once again.
The use of archival footage of the band’s heyday sets the scene, but it doesn’t dominate the film. Lowe is mostly interested in his subjects as they are today. We join Borrell, still skinny and mouthy as ever, as he mulls over a Razorlight reunion. Burrow, on the other hand, thoughtful and energetic, has turned into a muscular powerhouse drummer but is nervous as heck about revisiting a band he hasn’t had a part in since 2009. It’s clear that Borrell and Burrows, the two chief authors of Razorlight’s music, share a deep connection, but over a decade of frosty silence between them means some wounds haven’t had a chance to heal.
The scene in which the two reconcile their differences at Borrell’s french pad is at first tense but turns sweet-natured as their friendship reemerges and an impromptu jam opens then up to the possibility of working together again. This being filmed at the height of Covid-19 means no touchy-feely stuff, even though by the end of their brief reunion they look like they want to jump into each other’s arms. It’s quite lovely.
Dalemo and Ågren rejoin the band for a blistering headlining performance at the 2021 Island of Wight Festival that offers those viewers unfamiliar with the music of Razorlight an opportunity to understand what the fuss was all about in the first place. For those in the know, and the live audience in attendance and the band on-stage it feels like an immense act of catharsis. As a musical unit, they really do gel.
It would be easy for Lowe to give the viewer sensationalism instead of substance. The nostalgia for the early 2000s and the hedonistic “indiesleeze” subculture that appears popular right now would be an easy connection to make. Razorlight’s golden period fell right into the culture of Myspace, and music and fashion DIY aesthetics of that era. Even as this subculture was being lived in those heady days of the 2000s, one always felt Razorlight were above and beyond it. The universal nature of the band’s songs seemed more attuned to stadiums than shabby makeshift house parties. Lowe, instead, pulls focus on the aftermath and how life for the members resumed after the meteoritic success. The members mostly continued with music while raising families abroad.
The film doesn’t aim for the giddy highs of music documentaries such as Some Kind of Monster, Dig!, or Montage of Heck. Those films have a voyeuristic nature about them where weirdness is expected. The members of Razorlight thankfully haven’t mutated into the bloated egotism of the members of Metallica, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, or the druggie haze of post-fame Kurt Cobain. Yet, you sense that with a bit more prodding the band members would have taken the opportunity to open up about the mental health and substance issues that early success had taken on them. No member of the band seems traumatized by their experiences. Shell-shocked, maybe. Their willingness to reconnect shows those early years must have been a positive. It’s an interesting avenue that is hinted at but isn’t taken.
Razorlight: Fall to Pieces is a successful testament to the power of music and enduring friendship. You sense there is more heartache, betrayal, and remorse to the story of the band’s rise and fall, but, for the here and now, all that matters is music, art, and friendship prevailed. If the documentary proves to be a full stop in the band’s story, then one can be assured that Razorlight have left their mark on popular culture as a whole. My hope is that the film symbolizes a new paragraph in the creative endeavors of these lads. They certainly still have the looks, the ideas, the licks, and the dynamism to pull it off.
Razorlight: Fall to Pieces premieres at the 30th Raindance Film Festival.