Jason: It’s hard to believe Will’s been around for nearly 8 years, but Britain’s one, true Pop Idol is still there where almost all others have failed. He’s had triumphs (Your Game) and lower points (what was going on with the Switch It On video anyway?), but he has always succeeded because of the three assets which made him the world’s first Idol in the first place: great looks, a winning personality (I know, I’ve met him) and his incredible voice. They’re all present in spades for the lead single off his upcoming ‘The Hits’ album, as Will puts together a masterclass in how to sing and package mainstream pop. X-Factor has nothing on him – whilst ‘Hopes and Fears’ might be a radical departure towards mainstream pop, away from the signature soul sound which made ‘Friday’s Child’ such a significant record, it works. There remains a serious shortage of simple, straightforward, good natured pop music and this boy doesnt just know it, he and the song’s writers Yolanda Quartey and Stew Jackson have delivered the remedy. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and positively sizzles on screen – you think you’ve seen Will Young at his best already? Clearly not.
Of course why ‘Hopes & Fears’ really works is only partly because his vocals have blissfully at last been left entirely alone; it’s also blessed with great lyrics. It manages to say something about the human condition, whilst remaining entirely upbeat and uptempo – a combination he’s rarely risked taking his music, but it pays off in spades. The rockier bridge, the edgier delivery of the verses and the belted out, last minute middle eight combine to deliver the pop anthem for 2009. Where Robbie is worried about getting his relaunch right, and Cheryl and Alexandra are concerned about targeting just the right demographic and developing just the right sound, Will has finally relaxed and done what millions of us fell in love with him for doing in 2001 – singing the great music we want rather than what the record companies want. He deserves a number 1 for this.
Secret Musician: I have to admit that I am not a massive fan of the music competitions on TV at the moment, far too many people looking for a fast track to fame, who should really go and spend a couple of years on the circuit to get themselves fully ready for the rigours of what may be to come. It is far too easy to fall into the traps of thinking these people have the voice therefore are ready to stand on the world stage, when in reality there is a lot more than meets the eye. I think that the powers that be are now aware of this – all winners now seem to disappear for a year after winning before finally being thrust into the limelight. I don’t think I’d be too far wide of the mark to say they are whisked off into a world of training on how to keep their voice well even when they are touring, how to deal with the pressures of fame, how to really want it – all the things that if you go up through the ranks you kind of learn as you go along.
The one person who seems to have managed to dodge these issues, even more or less losing the reality TV tag is Will Young. I find Will Young infuriating. He is the sort of person who had no business being on a TV reality show – he should have just done it himself and not had to play the game with Simon Cowell to stop being his toy and release the tunes he really wanted to release. His eclectic sets of recordings so far prove he has enough to be a bit of a pop chameleon- from crooner to poppy funk to straight pop he has done, and to a certain extent pulled off, them all. If he had done it properly I think the world, and, possibly more importantly other musicians and songwriters, would be lauding the praise and queueing up to work with him given half the chance.
His new single has done nothing to change my perception. An eightiestastic number which is throughly in sync with (and a slightly different end product from) what seems to be in vogue at the moment, turning into a straight edgy poppy chorus and ending. The vocal performance is much of a muchness from someone with such undoubted ability – albeit that the verse would have benefited from a bit more of a melody – something not necessarily his fault as it’s pretty difficult doing anything interesting with just a drum beat underneath you.
A couple of dodgy lyric couplets (I’ll leave you to guess which I’m not sure about!) and slightly unnecessarily liberal backing singing- and massively unnecessarily second vocal melody do nothing to help the cause but the soaring chorus will no doubt thrill and excite his current fan base, if not necessarily adding to it.
If he was asking my advice (which I’m sure he isn’t!) I would like to see his next outing to be something a bit stranger – use all these techniques he has mastered and pull them all together into some sort of unique mixture. Of cause this would be a bit of a risk – would he be followed by his legions of fans? Would he be able to pull something like this off? Both I think are worthy of the risk – and could well pay dividends to him in future – for now though another good track, not going to change the world, but more than able to be a staple radio fixture for weeks to come. Come on Will – time to get out of the comfort zone!
Jason: I’ve never understood why Will never released the two tracks he recorded (and co-wrote) with Morcheeba. They fit entirely with the whole ‘a bit stranger’ thing, really showed his voice off and really set him apart. But he’s persevered with ballads which have sold well, upbeat numbers which invariably haven’t, but my theory about why he’s gone with ‘Hopes & Fears’ hinges around the sales failure of ‘Grace’. By far the best song on ‘Let It Go’, it failed to set the charts alight, which I believed was down to a frankly crazy choice of video – a darkly soulful song about relationship failure really didn’t deserve a video about his love for his horse. He though I think saw the sales figures as a rejection of the song, and took it as a nudge to be more conventional musically. I don’t agree – the relative failure of ‘Switch It On’ was brought on by the same ill-judged promotion.
Because of his Pop Idol roots he’s always going to be caught between the expectations of the huge single and the necessity of being an album artist. Secret Musician – I wonder if you could expand on your comment about ‘doing it properly’. Leona Lewis’ international profile has come largely because Cowell saw her as an easy fit into an international diva market – Simon Fuller on the other hand has pretty much left Will to his own devices. Should he have pushed him to continue down some of the more experimental roads he edged down in ‘Keep On’ (which were entirely missing in ‘Let It Go’)? It would surely mean increasing his credibility at the expense of ever diminishing sales.
I do have to repeat though that as a one-off, I really love ‘Hopes & Fears’. It’s a song which leave me feeling happy, which I really appreciate, although I think you’re right in saying it won’t add to his current fan base one iota.
Secret Musician: I’m sorry if the ‘doing it properly’ comment seemed a bit elitist and musical snobby, the point (in this context, in others it may vary!) wasn’t to try and come across that way!
What I was trying to say was, from the beginnings of time, when Bach was sat playing with this new strange contraption and seeing what sounds it made musicians have been better off with experience under their belt. Its unheard of in anything other than X-Factor that someone comes in off the street and three months later is a international superstar. Anybody in the music industry otherwise will have been honing their skills and talents for years before hand, even the ones who pretend they haven’t!
You have to learn what songs suit your voice (so you don’t get such laughable moments as there were on X-Factor at the weekend where the song you have chosen actually includes notes that you can’t hit) and play these songs week in, week out until you know them perfectly, know what the audience is going to do, know whats going to happen next and so on and so forth. Just like a plumber needs to go through an apprenticeship, a journalist has to write as much as is humanly possible before finally getting a break a musician needs to work their way through the ranks and learn their skills in front of people and work out what they can, and can’t pull off. Brilliant example being Robbie Williams on Sunday – he knows that song is appaling, he knows he hates performing, so he plays up to the crowd, by the end of the song ignoring what he should be doing completely, and (arguably) pulls it off.
My point relating to Will was that if he had gone through the ranks, sung in pubs and clubs, possibly even worked on writing some songs and things I think he would be a much more exciting and interesting artist compared to what he is now. Which is frustrating, as he is the only person who has gone through the X-Factor that I would say that about. What you see now is a genuinly talented musician, but someone who has a comfort zone and won’t leave, which you wouldn’t have if he had got into the industry in a less manipulated fashion.