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LeAnn Rimes’ latest album Spitfire is about the US country-pop singer’s adulterous affair with a man, leading to the break-up of both their marriages; they are now married to each other. You might expect the result to be catnip for today’s confessional-hungry times, Oprah with twanging guitars – but you would be wrong. Spitfire has bombed.
Its commercial failure was visible at the Apollo. The venue was not sold out – an ignominious state of affairs for a performer with almost 40m record sales to her name. Rimes was also suffering the after-effects of a respiratory illness, for which she apologised at the start. But the apology proved needless. Other than the odd moment, like the awkward high note at the end of “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”, she sang with unimpeded power.
Backed by a basic four-bloke backing band of guitar, steel guitar, bass and drums, she opened with the barroom country-rocker “Family”, about a turbulent-but-loving southern family with a “daddy” who “ran off with a white trash half his age”. It was a pointed opener. Spitfire’s account of her own infidelity has prompted a backlash from prudish country fans who don’t mind “cheating songs” as long as they’re sung by men. When it’s Rimes – tonight a vision of Nashville swag in low-cut diaphanous top, designer high heels and diamanté microphone – then howls of outrage drown out the music.
Rimes, 31, has been on stage since childhood. Initially she was marketed as the new Patsy Cline, whose controlled emotiveness she does indeed share: “Borrowed”, a strangely touching acoustic ballad about being the “other woman”, was delivered with a finely judged degree of longing. But her voice also has an un-Patsy Cline-like robustness – a full-bodied, red-blooded quality that, were she a man, one would unhesitatingly describe as virile.
She’s perfectly capable of soporific mainstream balladry: the only good thing about tonight’s rendition of her Ronan Keating duet “Last Thing on My Mind” was Keating’s absence. But Spitfire’s title track was more typical, a boogying denunciation of a “lying” rival, sung with vigorous relish. And to show her dramatic range, she fluently turned herself into the wronged woman for an old-school cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. The prudes are missing out.