Monday, August 29, 2011

Album Review: Will Young - Echoes (4.5/5)

Why do I find Will Young so compelling? He's attractive, although not conventionally so. And yes, he sometimes sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse, but he can sing circles around most any other guy trying to score a pop hit in the last 10 years. And in fact, it's his unusual voice used so well that makes him so appealing. Sexy even.

My passion for Young remains hotly ignited with Echoes, his fifth album. This time he's gone out on a limb and teamed up with dance producer Richard X as the album's sole producer and first time Richard X has produced a full album. The resulting sound is an appealing landscape for Young’s songs, more love-burned and less lovelorn this time. Yes, it's more electronic than any of Young's prior albums, but I wouldn't call it dance music per se. Maybe the kind of dance music you put on but don't dance to. It's far too moody for that. Far better to glare across the room at some hot guy you've been pining for who won't give you the time of day. At least that's how I imagine first single "Jealousy" unfolding, a gorgeous, glittery upbeat number that ranks among the best of Young's album's first singles.

"Come On" is another stunner, a boisterously upbeat but not exactly happy song, as it sounds like it's about a break up--always fodder for a good hit, which this could certainly be if it's chosen as a single. "I Just Want a Lover" is another gem from the album's first half with a Scissor Sisters-worthy disco stomp over which brokenhearted Young pines for an easy lay to take the mind off his pain. It's the first of several tracks that recall the Bronski Beat-tinged sound of Young's recent Groove Armada collaboration, "History."

That sound continues into the album's solid second half with tracks like "Losing Myself," whose prominent synthesizer melody definitely nods to Bronski Beat's classic "Smalltown Boy." The driving closer, "Safe From Harm," is in a similar vein. It's not all retro dance though. "Hearts on Fire" has a more modern sound akin to Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, seemingly blooming into the dance pop song you weren't sure it would be at first. "Good Things" too sounds like something that Madonna could have put out.

Which brings me to my one area of criticism with this album, which is its ballads. None of them are particularly memorable for me, which is surprising given that sound of my all-time favorites by him are slow songs ("Leave Right Now," "Love Is a Matter of Distance," "All Time Love" and "You Know Me," in particular). They aren't bad by any means, but "Lie Next to Me" and "Silent Valentine" feel somewhat slight against the boldness of the dance pop tracks. And "Outsider" is just too melancholy for me. Young tries to express vulnerability on these songs, but I actually think he comes across as more vulnerable on the songs where’s he’s trying to mask his pain rather than revel in it.

Better is the downbeat “Happy Now,” which, doesn’t at all live up to its name, sounding like moody early ‘90s Pet Shop Boys (and nothing like Take That’s recent single of the same name), and “Runaway,” which I guess isn’t really a ballad, but serves the same purpose with its hushed vocal and gentle melody, despite the dance beat.

I was going to give this a "4," as I feel it isn't quite as good as Friday's Child or Let It Go, but I think it deserves to be more in the company of those superior albums than From Now On or Keep On, Young's enjoyable but less fully formed first and third albums. It's possible it will continue to grow on me, as I find I'm liking it more and more with every listen.

Best: Jealousy, Come On, I Just Want a Lover, Losing Myself, Hearts on Fire


A1 said...

just got my copy of Echoes, damn love it!
its Lo-fi and joyous!
looking at getting all his back catalogue now!

ww_adh said...

All his previous albums are good, but the second (Friday's Child) and fourth (Let It Go) are the best.

rcLoy said...

I'm so late to the party but this is definitely one of my faves album of 2012.