For much of the 2011 series of ITV’s X Factor juggernaut, Marcus Collins looked like a shoe-in to nab the winner’s title. He was suave, well-mannered, boasted a great voice and was generally charming in every way. But during the final, something went horribly wrong. Collins had morphed into a cruise-ship singer, banging out predictable routines pumped up with plastered smiles and an overabundance of energy. Little Mix left him for dust, and the rest, as they, is history.
What next then for the Liverpool lad? Release a cover version of The White Stripes classic Seven Nation Army to front up his debut album, that’s what. As tantalising as the prospect might initially sound, the cheesy organ riffs and plodding, jukebox bass transforms the song into a cheap bit of dolled up karaoke. You can see what the suits behind the album were trying to do – force Collins down the same route he trod on the X Factor itself, banging out identikit Mark Ronson-esque jazzed up cover versions. But there’s the fault; his debut proves nothing he didn’t already display on the show. There’s no progression, no innovation, just a formless mass of rushed content.
Love & Hate is an uneasy mid-point between aping Cee Lo Green and Bruno Mars, but Collins doesn’t quite have the substance to pull it off. Rebecca Ferguson proved with sublime ease last year that an X Factor star could produce a debut of real class and soul, and while Collins might strive towards this on every track, it instead comes off as a poor man’s copy. Innocence and Don’t Surrender are so stained with the attempted Ronson production style – all chiming bells, vinyl hiss and brass stomps – that it feels like Collins has broken into his house and raided the wardrobe. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in Collins’ case, more often than not he ends up coming across as the kid dressed up in a man’s suit.
The over-riding feel across the album is one of constant anti-climax – the hooks are decent enough, but are for the most part half-formed, never better than a vague will-this-do stab at average. For Collins to record and release an entire album within three months of leaving the X Factor – and a debut album at that too, the big first impression – is frankly shocking and merely hands ammunition to those that decry the show as a conveyor belt of manufactured pop.
As much as Collins’ nerve to cover an artist like Janelle Monáe has to be admired – it is perhaps one of the only moments on the record where a sense of his own personal taste really comes across – his version of Tightrope is a dispiriting, cheaply made DIY attempt where all the song’s original, delicate nuances are blurred away into an, again, incredibly rushed production. Even Gary Barlow-penned Feel Like I Feel, which tries to recast Collins as the second coming of Jamiroquai, can’t save the album – and while its nu-disco rhythms are admittedly one of the more fun moments on the record, it’s still largely disposable. If there are any true redeeming elements to Collins’ debut, then it’s in Break These Chains, a song that somehow manages to meld together a chorus and synth twirls Erasure would be proud of with funky guitar lines straight out of Kylie Minogue‘s Spinning Around. It’s so ridiculously, fabulously over the top that it’s almost a shame it’s all over in two and a half minutes.
If Collins had populated his debut with more like Break These Chains, it might have been a genuinely interesting affair. But as it stands, it’s an irritatingly apathetic rush-release that feels like it’s trying to siphon off all the original talent Collins displayed on the X Factor into speedily cast copies of popular acts; a karaoke effort from a singer that initially promised so much more. And that, it generally feels like, is the biggest shame with the record – the utterly unrealised potential.