It’s probably quite significant, in a Nick Hornby kind of way, that so many successful records are so negative. Songs of torment, isolation, hate: Pet Sounds, Hotel California, Thriller. Even Rumours, every Rover-driver’s favourite, is an album about how much each band member hates the others. Music fans are twisted shells of people, and we know it.
Record companies, on the other hand, don’t. Dido is not a joke because she’s rubbish, but because she is so purposefully inoffensive: in trying to design something to keep everyone happy, she missed the magic nasty spark. Meanwhile, the genius of Robbie Williams is his ability to avoid niceness – his tattoos; his piercing; his preposterous messianic ego. He is loveably horrid, and trades on just the instinct for rebellion that Dido avoids. He is part of the great tradition.
Ronan Keating was Dido avant la lettre. Even his own website says he is “one of the nicest men in music”. When Robbie left Take That, he did coke with Oasis; when Ronan left Boyzone he did the soundtrack for Notting Hill. Out with Boyzone’s gentle hints of adolescent naughtiness, in with knitwear.
Which kind of backfired, obviously. It’s a pity, because Keating has a fine voice, and sincerity, and he probably is truly nice. And these aren’t bad songs. From the sublimely inane I Love it When We Do, to a surreal duet with Yusuf Islam on his Father and Son, there’s nothing to get too bothered about. In fact, the Baby Can I Hold You heard here is rather better than Tracy Chapman’s, done almost a capella and with a genuinely affecting vocal.
No, this is good pop – not great, but good, solid stuff. A few ballads, a few catchy choruses. There’s a strangely timeless aspect to it all – We’ve Got Tonight is Tina Turner balladry at its (admittedly dubious) best; minus the ubiquitous acoustic guitars, Lost For Words might be Lenny Kravitz.
Best of all is When You Say Nothing At All, a dull song perfectly recorded. There are some beautiful touches: atmospheric spacey production, a shade of a horn section, some rather decent background ‘woo’s. Alright, the song bankrolled Richard Curtis, but so did Ain’t No Sunshine, and in the juxtaposition with Bill Withers Ronan didn’t come off too badly.
So there it is: asexual, nice, but talented. The talent doesn’t outweigh those obvious disadvantages, of course – but I’d rather have this in shops than that jackanapes Robbie any time. It probably is wrong that we can’t deal with people being nice.