Thursday, 25 March 2010

2002 Will Young and Gareth Gates: The Long And Winding Road/Suspicious Minds

What could be better than one Pop Idol? How about two of them? On the same song? This is one light bulb moment of inspiration that wouldn’t have taken long to light up over the heads of someone pulling the strings here; in truth, fuelled by the precedent of the Kylie and Jason duet, the appearance of this is as predictable as an Eastboard sunrise with the key players breaking out the BMW catalogues as soon as Will and Gareth entered the studio. Ker and Ching indeed.

But that’s all by the by – whither the outcome? Well, whether it's born of a misplaced confidence or youthful arrogance, there's a certain admiration to be gleaned from the bucketfuls of chutzpah on display in thinking they could bring anything new to a table that The Beatles and Elvis Presley formerly sat at the head of. The A side 'proper' here is the duo's cover of 'The Long And Winding Road', a song that (it's fair to say) was never a personal favourite from The Beatles canon. It's not one of Paul McCartney's favourite Beatles songs either, not as it appears on the 'Let It Be' album anyway (in fact, he cited it as one of the reasons he ended up quitting the band). That’s not because of the song per se, but because producer Phil Spector, to McCartney’s immense displeasure, swamped the band's back to basics take with the overdubbed frenzy of '18 violins, four violas, four cellos, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitars, and a choir of 14 women' behind their backs. Blimey.

McCartney himself has tried to re-write this historical misstep by including The Beatles' original version (sans Phil's meddling) on the 2003 'Let It Be - Naked' album, so evidently there's scope here for creativity. Gates and Young, however, do not take the opportunity to inject some ideas of their own (unless you call turning a solo vocal into a duet a ‘creative step’) and instead follow the white lines of Spector's arrangement as faithfully as a Sunday driver. For all his chagrin, McCartney's vocal at least added an edge of friction to Spector's add on arrangement by picking over it’s surface with the grace of a stone skimming over a lake of porridge.

The Pop Idol tag team are not out to rock any boats though, and to smooth out any roughness they keep it sweet by hitching their vocals directly to the melody. But in so doing they’re forced into adopting a sickly, strained modulation of stretched syllables and held notes to make the lyric ‘fit’ a melody that just isn't there, two whiny mouths stuffed full of sherbet dib dab that adds extra cheese to what was already a curates egg of a dish. It turns 'The Long And Winding Road' into muzak soundtracking an elevator bound straight for hell, but at least it should give McCartney comfort in knowing he got off lightly in comparison back in 1970.

The B side is a Gareth Gates solo recording that goes for gold by having a crack at a song as closely associated with Presley as a comedy quiff, greasy burgers and a white jump suit. A proper 'man's song' and a bellow of a ballad in Presley’s hands, Elvis booms the opening "We're caught in a trap, I can't walk out. Because I love you too much baby" as a matter of fact assessment of a relationship going bad in a way that suggests he can take it or leave it if his woman won't come to her senses. But then by the song's close he’s singing a different tune from a position on his knees to plead for another chance to make this thing work ("Oh let our love survive, dry the tears from your eyes. Let's don't let a good thing die"). Show business showboating maybe, but Presley avoids the camp and plays it from the gut with a confidence that demands attention.

How does Gates' version compare? Well, it doesn't really - the incessant wah wah guitar that plays over the top is as alien and unwelcome as a scribbled moustache on the Mona Lisa, but then that's probably a necessary distraction from Gates' puppy yelp that turns Presley's grand statement into the playground whinge of a boy being sent to do a man's job. In a word, awful, but as I say, you've got to admire the lad's bottle. Haven't you?

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