On stage, Paolo Nutini resembles one of those Hollywood comedies about swapped identities – in his case an elderly man teleported into a young man’s body.
At the Roundhouse, where he appeared as part of an iTunes-sponsored season of concerts, the 22-year-old Scottish-Italian singer-songwriter looked more like a 1940s matinee idol than 21st-century pop idol in his waistcoat, white shirt, suit trousers and leather shoes.
Never mind – the girls screamed anyway, though the ardour was checked by the meat-and-two-veg pub rock that his band struck up in the opening song. Meanwhile, Nutini adopted an eccentric singing posture, almost bent double as if the weight of time were bearing down on him. An impressive roar issued from his mouth, like Joe Cocker in full flight. In contrast to the stooped-pensioner look there was nothing frail about his singing, though it was not very modern either.
In 2006, Nutini’s 2.3m-selling debut album These Streets cast him as a blue-eyed pop-soul crooner with slick songs and a raspy voice, the working-class Paisley infantryman to James Blunt’s cavalry officer. For the follow-up Sunny Side Up, the songs have lost their slickness and the voice has got raspier: Bob Dylan, Al Green and Johnny Cash are invoked; the old-fashioned sounds of skiffle and ska ring out. Yet for all the record’s charms, Nutini’s live act failed to convince.
The ukelele-led “High Hopes” had a pleasant calypso lilt, though its easy-listening tempo was skewed by Nutini delivering sonorous lines about needing a “moral education to set young minds free” while wagging a curmudgeonly finger. “Simple Things” used a worthy but dull country music strum to illustrate the singer’s hippyish philosophy of life (“It’s the simple things that mean the most to me”).
His voice was impressive: throaty, forceful, occasionally flirting with pleading higher notes. A fellow Scotsman, Rod Stewart, came to mind. Yet bar an impassioned cry of “I want you!” in the soulful “No Other Way”, the themes of love and longing in his songs – These Streets was written after a break-up, Sunny Side Up followed the reconciliation – drifted by without engaging the emotions.
Nutini’s reinvention as an antique troubadour is bold but his music proved too slight to support it. ★★☆☆☆