Mark Owen - Academy 2 - 8.10.03

Perfectly formed and still as gorgeous as the days he writhed around half naked in Baby Oil T-shirts. Mark Owen still has the ability to make hearts flutter and while most of his audience have grown up, got married and had kids they still have a place in their hearts for little Marky. It was always a shame for me of how Robbie went onto tremendous success and Mark faded away after the release of the "Green Man" album, but it wasn't hard to see why. Robbie has the James Bond factor of most women want to shag him and most men want to be him. Mark's appeal was strictly limited to women and gay men despite the fact that his debut album possibly pushed more of the indie buttons than Robbie ever could.

Strangely enough it wasn't the music that reunited his career, but an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. Still it would have all been in vain if he hadn't come back with a single as strong as "Four Minute Warning". With a half full venue numbering about 400 audience members it's a far cry from the days of Take That (and indeed his last solo appearance in Manchester which saw him sell 2000 tickets next door at the Academy 1), but in one of those cliched statements - it's all about the music now. And indeed with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, Ian McCulloch and Arther Baker co-writing his album it seems there's a lot of faith invested in his comeback. After a couple of forgettable tracks, "Gravity" and "Kill With Your Smile" raise the game and prove that pop music can be both credible and frivolous. Very much in the vein of his "Green Man" material there's no great musical shift, but as a performer he's back in the zone. Taking moves from Brett Anderson and still having that camp air about him throughout he seems so natural and so at ease with himself on stage. With covers aplenty numbering Kylie's "Cant Get You Outta My Head", Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" and The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love" they can often seems to overshadow his own material, but when the Jeff Buckley-esque "Baby I'm No Good" receives a stark airing there isn't a dry eye in the house. Both showing Owen's vocals up as frail and weak it doesn't seem to matter when a song like this is delivered with such emotion and is as desperate a song as you can have within the pop spectrum.

Tonight was a reflection where Mark Owen is in 2003 and therefore the only offering off his debut album was "Clementine". No "Child" or "I Am What I Am" and the only nod to his days in Take That was a cover of "Babe" which segued into "Back For Good". Leaving the stage with his new single "Alone Without You" it would be an absolute shame if he faded back into obscurity while Robbie is still releasing identikit self indulgent self pitying dirges.

Alex McCann

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