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Music: LOADER RUBBISH; It seems being loved by TV chef Jamie Oliver can be a recipe for disaster. Just listen to Toploader's latest slice o' soul.

Byline: GAVIN MARTIN

TOPLOADER are forever twinned with the most irritating man to go near a frying pan, or a drum kit for that matter, Jamie Oliver.

The TV chef and part-time musician tossed his goodies to the sound of their hit Dancing In The Moonlight in a TV ad and a match of like minds was made.

The Oliver annoyance factor shouldn't block out the pleasure to be had from this, the follow-up to their 1.5million selling debut, Onka's Big Moka.

It would be unfair and irrational to judge the band on that basis but it's unavoidable because there's no sign that Joseph Washbourn's mob is in any hurry to rid themselves of the Jamie connection.

The image of one of Mister O's jolly knees-ups - everyone trying hard to go wild and funky - comes readily to mind as the forced smiles and pushy riffs of Time Of My Life switch into gear.

Other disturbing images follow as Joseph's lyrics plumb the depths on Leave Me Be - he sounds like Leo Sayer out on the town, Long Tall Glasses firmly in his sights.

Smug but shallow, earnest but exasperating, Toploader manage to strike all the wrong notes in all the wrong places.

The group parade their unashamedly retro influences - Motown beats, blues boom riffs and old-fashioned boogie - while Washbourn's affected mannerisms project contrivance rather than emotional commitment.

Eastbourne, the band's hometown, has long had a reputation as the retirement home for the aged and prematurely aged.

It is slightly ironic that it has taken the 26-year-old Joseph and his mates to confirm the stereotype. But only slightly. Washbourn has learned to take such criticism on the chin - they know there's a booming market for their reheated brand of nostalgia.

Joseph happily admits to having "a rubbish record collection" and immodestly claims that "I only like our records". With such limited horizons it is no surprise that Lady Let Me Shine employs the sort of language you'd expect to hear used by a weekend hippy in a 70s sitcom parody. Or that the album's Dancing In The Moonlight cover slot, a version of Some Kind Of Wonderful, makes The Commitments sound like the epitome of downhome sincerity.

Washbourn's voice remains the dominant factor - an unmistakably white English soul pastiche that goes way over the top as he vainly attempts to get in touch with real feeling.

On Midas Touch, they go for the epic - big strings, squealing air guitar solo and Washbourn stretched to his strangulated limit. It is a musical fondue dip of cheesiness that would hardly spare Mister Oliver's blushes.

The introduction of top-flight US producer George Drakoulis has done little to alter the glib superficial style, clean cheery and empty.

The press release that accompanies the record says that the album was finished in the studio where the Beach Boys made Pet Sounds. Really? Next time round, they might get a chance to shovel some grit into Brian Wilson's sandbox.

CAPTION(S):

AFFECTED: Joe Washbourn; TOPLOADER: MAGIC HOTEL
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 17, 2002
Words:501
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