Now listen long and hard. Donny, the Anti-Cassidy, the toothsome teen prince that once sang of Puppy Love and has hung doggedly, if intermittently, to the pop dream of eternal youth for some thirty years, is once more at large.
And this time, he’s got a quiver-full of his (sort of) own compositions activated and primed to pierce the Top 40 once more. We are therefore honoured to discover exactly what Donny meant to say all these years when someone else was responsible for his ditties.
The genesis of this project deserves a public airing. Donny (for it is he) and his co-writers would begin composing the first verse of each song overlooking the Donster’s private pool. Each songsmith would then jump into the pool and begin to write the second verse in the water. Some say that Robert Johnson‘s King Of The Delta Blues Singers recordings found inspiration in exactly the same environment.
Donny is generous enough to share writing credits with one Eliot Kennedy and a man who is known to us as Gary Barlow. Yes, a million love songs later, he’s still here.
As if to contradict Donny, much of What I Meant To Say actually sounds like what Take That‘s in-house ‘songwriting genius’ meant to get off his chest before Robbie carved a spectacular niche in self-obsession and realised that he was, in fact, ‘the one’.
The soupy Whenever You’re In Trouble fits perfectly with the cover of Foreigner‘s eighties-blighting I Wanna Know What Love Is. Predictable exercises in anodyne funk surface in Should’ve Known Better and In It For Love, where the Waterman / Fuller dilution of Pop dynamics is finally freed of any lingering notion of spontaneity. Which, it has to be said, is some feat.
These days the nation decides its temporary pop-thing by way of poll, even before the pre-planned record is unleashed on the public. On What I Meant To Say, Donny demonstrates that he is utterly in touch with the kidz of today. He does this by making almost every song on this collection so utterly anonymous that it could have been made by any one of Simon Fuller’s various revenue streams with their built-in obsolescence.
Torch-incinerating ballads such as In It For Love and One Dream hover at some no man’s land between Glen Medeiros and the patron saint of disaffected boy band members, (the pre-coming out) George Michael. Mr and Mrs Osmond’s most successful bairn even attempts George’s own Faith. Indeed, it is hard to listen without prejudice.
But let’s give the Big O some credit. There are a few tracks (well, three) where the drums don’t have the acoustics of tin cans, the horns don’t sound as easily programmed as my microwave, where someone in the Donny camp has decided to go all late-period Smokey Robinson of Cruisin’ fame. Possibly because of the backroom presence of one Bobby Womack , Top 10 single Breeze On By negotiates a fair approximation of the upwardly-mobile sound of The Main Ingredient.
Neither a little bit country, nor a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, Donny’s What I Meant To Say should’ve been a fan-club only release. Still, why wait for the debut of that X-Factor winner? The chances are it will sound just like this album.