Wednesday, 14 April 2010

2003 Will Young: Leave Right Now

I've been dismissive about Will Young's contributions to the roll-call of number ones in the recent past, but as this is as the last time we're going to be meeting either him or his 'rival' Gareth Gates then it's a good time for some pondering. First thing, my dislike is nothing personal and boils down to simply my finding his choice of songs and his manner of interpreting them unappealing (try as I might, I simply cannot take to Young's voice). And linked to that, I can say that a certain level of my 'problem' lies with the 'Pop Idol' crown he supposedly wears. Because for a so-called 'idol', Young has produced precious little in the way of evidence to prove that he's worthy of wearing it.

Is that a surprise I wonder? To my mind, pop idolatry is something, if perhaps not quite 'earned', is at least bestowed willingly in reciprocity by a fanbase in a kind of 'social contract'. For example, take David Cassidy - a true pop idol of his day, Cassidy's fame and bedrock for fan appeal had its roots via his exposure in a television show based on a fictitious family ('The Partridge Family') and a series of tie-in musical releases. For whatever reason(s), the hand of fate brushed Cassidy in a positive way in its passing and the collective consciousness of a generation saw something in him that marked him out as something special and worth the hysteria. Monstrously popular in the early seventies, "Cassidymania" lasted for as long as that consciousness was shared; that is, until his audience grew up and was replaced by a new generation who found their own idols to scream over. My point is that Cassidy's managers didn't present him cold with the 'this is the next pop idol, you must worship him' instruction. It's a two way process that began under its own steam and ended when it ran out of it.

My big problem with Young then is that, other than a television show bestowing him with pop idol status, his success always seemed to me to be a matter of obligation rather than a genuine reciprocal experience, a kind of arse about front 'we voted for him so he must be good' mentality. Cassidy's audience polished his star for him themselves, but who exactly was Young's audience meant to be other than a talent show watching demographic, most of whom probably hadn't bought a single in years? Who knows? Those behind him seemed unsure how to market him too. For evidence, look at his output to date, it's all over the place, a scattergun approach that tries to tick off as many options as possible without putting a foot out of place that would result in that precarious boat being rocked - you weren't going to be hearing Will's take on death metal anytime soon, but in that uncertainty, it feels like somebody is cheating and somebody is being cheated.

Not that Young gave them a fistful of options; whatever song they chose to set him up with, they always had to play to Young's strength which, ironically, is also his weakness; that is, a tremulous whine of a voice perpetually on the verge a tear waiting to be shed in return for a spot of mothering. Or at the very least some sympathy; Will's shtick is to play the vulnerable male not afraid to cry card for all it's worth. It's a market that James Blunt would soon come to briefly corner as a different kind of pop idol, but by writing his own material he'd do it on his own agenda and forge the contract the way Cassidy did and so avoid the 'spare part' trap that Young (not a writer apparently) fell into. And ironically, what Blunt did was set out the blueprint that Young should have followed from the off, something that 'Leave Right Now' does in fact do.

An original song, 'Leave Right Now' benefits enormously from being written by Eg White (i.e. someone who knows what they're doing), and while it's a simple ballad that doesn't come from White's top drawer, it does at least present a solid foundation and flexible structure for a singer to work with. In Young's case, this means a simper and a whine around the tale of unrequited love ("I'm here so please explain, why you're opening up a healing wound again"), yet for once he feels right at home; it's a fortuitous match that neatly demonstrates the adage that any stopped clock is right twice a day and Young invests the lyric with enough of a tremor to convince us that he's hurting without falling into pantomime.

And yet when all my analysis is stripped away, I find I literally don't have words sufficient to set out my sheer indifference to it. I'd probably like a lot better if it was being sung by Sam Cooke but then I'd probably like it a lot worse if Little Jimmy Osmond was on vocal duties. When the last full stop of this review is typed and posted then I will have no desire to ever hear it again for the rest of my life. Solid rather than exceptional, more than anything 'Leave Right Now' does give finally give Young the material that allows him to shake off the whole pop idol baggage (I'm guessing that this would have been a sizeable hit had he not taken part), find his own niche and present himself in his best light. Ah, but the final irony waiting to bite was that once found, the niche was lost when his bubble of pop burst (this was to be his last number one don't forget) and Captain Blunt was waiting in the wings to leap into the space he's vacate and pick up the slack. It's a fickle business this 'pop' lark.

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