Archive for romanticism

42. ‘Leave Right Now’ by Will Young (2003)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2010 by G.K. Reid

Sentimentality.  That long-standing enemy of honest art.  Well, frankly, I love it.  It’s vital.  But a distinction needs to made.  On the one hand, you have the kind of glossily cynical sentimentality churned out to sucker your grandmother and, on the other, there’s a more plangent form which is helplessly sentimental yet aware of it; that comments on it, even.  The former is typified by bombastic production, surging choruses and a sweeping string section.  It purports emotion, being sung with self-consciously earnest ostentation, but not for a moment does it take its steely eye off of the lucrative ‘Top Ten Songs Most Played at a Funeral’ list.  It wants to raise you up until you’re flying without wings and your pension has evaporated.  Will Young’s first release upon winning Pop Idol – Evergreen – was a culprit of this.  Leave Right Now is a different beast altogether.

It still bears formal similarities to the likes of Evergreen – namely the weakness for strings and the penchant for big volume-increasing choruses – but with several degrees more restraint.  The earnestness with which Will Young sings (despite arguably bearing some annoying tics and mannerisms that belie his greenness) is not in the least self-regarding, but supplely modulated and in service of the song.  Plus, it has that great noise in it. (I don’t know what it is, but there’s a similar noise in Jamelia’s Thank You. Some sort of muffled, bassy thing.  Anyway, it’s great.)

It was a watershed, career-defining moment for him (the song, not the unidentified noise).  His Back for Good. Furthermore, it augured his evolution from bankable one-man-Westlife into a purveyor of a deceptive kind of sentimentalism; lovelorn balladry that can lend itself to montages for departing American Idol contestants, while quietly tackling thorny emotional dilemmas with an air of jaded maturity or, alternatively, a frustrated naivete.

His output ever since Leave Right Now is free of meaningless platitudes and, despite always being about love, there isn’t one uncomplicated invocation of the thing to be found.  Look at the complexity of what has followed his signature hit: All Time Love contemplates the folly of romanticism, a la Rufus Wainwright; Changes is a lament that emphasises inertia over action; Who Am I is a love song that takes issue with the very concept of such a thing; the scathing Grace, with its gloating ‘lonely are the days of your life’ sucker punch, is an incisive character assassination, one hell of a lob to an ex-lover; while Let It Go is so thoroughly despondent that it abandons melody altogether.  These are pop-song character studies that hinge upon the human capacity for sentimentality; try as we might, it’s something that most of us can’t divest ourselves of.  Despite a shaky start, Will Young has mastered the ability of appealing to this part of us, without exploiting it.  It’s not an easy feat.

Bonus points: I can’t believe I’ve written 500 words about Will Young and haven’t mentioned his lovely face.

62. ‘Apple of My Eye’ by Ed Harcourt (2002)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 8, 2010 by G.K. Reid


Ed Harcourt: working the requisite sideburns, like all good troubadours should.

As some of his fellow men in this countdown (Rufus, Fyfe, R Kelly) can attest, romanticism and postmodernism make for strange bedfellows. To have one’s Keatsian impulses continually tempered by one’s own damned, inescapable self-awareness, in a world where a declaration of love is just as likely to trigger a cringe or an ironic riposte as it is a swoon. ‘Settle down, Keats’, the object of your affection may say derisively, as she rolls her eyes and hits the ‘send’ button on her iPhone. (Do iPhones have send buttons?)

But Harcourt, again like Rufus and (on a good day) Fyfe, excels at playing out this dilemma to the sounds of lushly orchestrated, multi-instrumented pieces of transcendent music. Because while words of love can easily be mocked by some cynical bastard somewhere, it’s much harder to argue against the sound of trumpets and violins and a few well-placed handclaps. Music will never lose its purity. And those high-notes Harcourt hits in the choruses of Apple of My Eye are as pure as they come.

Bonus points: ‘Here Be Monsters’ is one of my favourite winter albums. In that, I listen to it a lot in winter. It’s the musical equivalent of drinking mulled wine by a log fire, with an Old English Sheepdog at your feet. Also, another excellent, funny video: