* BRIT Awards show dismissed by critics as bland
* Reviews suggest tone may reflect straitened times
* TV audience highest for 10 years, despite criticism
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - "Sensible" and "sober" are words not normally associated with rock and roll, but they summed up how music critics viewed Wednesday night's BRIT Awards ceremony at the London O2 Arena.
Viewing figures for commercial broadcaster ITV1, which aired British pop's biggest night live, were the highest for a decade, so organisers, advertisers and the acts who performed were unlikely to care too much about what experts thought.
Gordon Smart, showbusiness editor at the Sun tabloid, summed up the mood, writing: "Well, rock'n'roll is officially dead. Where have all the rock stars gone?"
The big winner on the night, one that was widely predicted, was Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sande, who picked up the coveted British album award for "Our Version of Events", her debut which was the UK's top seller of 2012.
She also won the best British female honour, and English singer Ben Howard was the only other multiple winner, claiming the male solo artist and breakthrough categories.
"Welcome to the new boring," said Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick, describing Howard, Sande and other winners Mumford & Sons (best group) and One Direction (BRITs Global Success Award).
"All - to different degrees - extremely talented, vibrant, emotional, committed, entertaining musical performers beloved of enormous audiences," he wrote. "And all as dull as dishwater."
He concluded his review with a rallying cry: "I just hope there is some young punk out there, watching that, thinking the music business needs a right royal kick up the posterior."
CASH BEFORE CUTTING EDGE
The BRITs have long had a reputation for putting commercial success above artistic originality, and 2013 was no exception.
Will Hodgkinson of The Times newspaper said the lack of spark at the glitzy ceremony perhaps reflected broader economic and social concerns in Britain.
"When times are hard people behave well and hang on to their jobs, which is why the high jinks and chaos of the past, like Jarvis Cocker wiggling his bum at Michael Jackson, was sadly absent," he said.
In one of the most frequently recalled moments of BRITs history, Cocker invaded the stage while Jackson was performing in 1996 before being escorted away by security.
Even last year had a frisson of controversy, when Adele's speech was cut short to make way for Blur to perform, prompting her to raise her middle finger.
Adele picked up another award in 2013 - best single for Bond theme tune "Skyfall" - but she did not attend, preferring to rehearse for her upcoming performance at the more widely viewed Oscars ceremony on Sunday.
Nick Hasted, writing in the Independent, said what was most "depressing" about the BRITs was how they were dovetailing with other awards like the Mercury Prize and the BBC's "Sound of..." poll identifying up-and-coming talent.
"As it shrinks, the music industry is becoming ever more adept at controlling what enters the mainstream," Hasted said. "The moribund album charts, lacking inspiration and challenge, show how well they've succeeded."
Critics did have more positive things to say about many of the performances, which included Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift from the United States and Sande, Howard, Mumford & Sons, One Direction, Muse and Robbie Williams from Britain.
And there was good news on the TV viewing front. According to the Guardian, the average audience was just over 6.5 million, a 27.8 percent share and the highest since 2003. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Stephen Addison)