Time on a soap opera can do funny things to you. Remember Jack Ryder, who announced he was leaving Albert Square to become the ‘new Leonardo DiCaprio’? Or Matthew Marsden, who had one hit after fixing cars in Kevin Webster’s garage and promptly moved to America to seek his fortune? Or even poor old Shane Richie who was once the only reason to watch Eastenders, who quickly found out that he wasn’t really going to be the new Hugh Grant after all.
So it’s with a fair degree of trepidation and cynicism that we approach Richard Fleeshman’s debut album, Neon. Fleeshman will be remembered by Coronation Street fans as Craig Harris, the goth who deflowered young Rosie Webster. After a stint on Stars On Their Eyes impersonating Will Young, he won one of ITV’s seemingly endless ‘celebrity talent shows’, Soapstar Superstar, and as inevitably as night follows day, a record contract was soon offered to Fleeshman.
Fleeshman does have an undeniably good voice – albeit one in that X-Factor-style of identikit young male vocalists vein. Perfectly pitched, strong and can carry a tune, but there’s little to hint at Fleeshman’s own personality. Yet, given some decent songs, it’s easy to imagine him making a perfectly listenable album.
And therein lies the problem. For Neon screams of expensive production values, session musicians and hired songwriters and a few carefully chosen cover versions – the result is mediocre to say the least. It’s not particularly bad, but nothing really strays from the medium paced, tastefully produced, easy listening template laid down early on.
It’s catchy enough mind – opening track Coming Down has a lovely soaring chorus, only spoilt by peculiar lyrics about “chocolate stars in the sun”, and the song gives Fleeshman a rare chance to show some passion. Going Backwards is one of the few occassions that he seems to be let off the leash, an enjoyably rocky track which would sound at home on American FM radio.
It’s those moments that are the most successful. At times, Fleeshman sounds uncannily like US singer/songwriter John Mayer, especially on the soulful Eighteen, and it would be interesting if he was to pursue this direction. Sadly, most of the time, he sounds like a poor man’s Ronan Keating.
Cover versions such as his rendition of Semisonic‘s Secret Smile are just dreadful, robbing the song of any poignancy that it may once had, and Hey Jealousy, originally by The Gin Blossoms, is a karaoke standard cover version. Yet even these are preferable to the seemingly endless parade of drippy, anonymous love songs such as No Man’s Land, Skyline and These Days.
It does end quite nicely with the jaunty acoustic swing of Hold Me Close (imagine The Kooks had they been schooled by Simon Cowell), but it doesn’t clear the general air of middle of the road sludge that’s preceded it.
There are enough signs here that Fleeshman is a talented singer, but he needs to tear himself away from the production team that have surrounded him if he wants to stamp his own personality on his songs. Otherwise, a return to the cobbled streets of Weatherfield could well be in order.