Will Young’s first album, From Now On, was necessarily a compromise between material already written for whoever won Pop Idol and the particular stylings of an intelligent young man who, entirely rightly, saw the opportunity of winning a talent show not as an end but as a means to a career beginning.
By his second record, the five-times platinum Friday’s Child, Will was beginning to express his own R&B-jazz-pop style a little more freely, but it was still an imperfect album of two halves, divided between languid soul-lite stylings and what sounded like commercially written banker hits that had been given to Will to sing.
Keep On, in contrast, sounds like the first completely Will Young album and a quantum leap beyond the benchmark of his last two records. Just about all the songs suit his playfully smooth vocals, and his working relationship with producer Steve Lipson seems to have allowed him the confidence and opportunity to turn his hand to a range of styles.
There’s Bo Diddley riffage in lead single Switch It On; ecstatic showtune partying with Ain’t Such A Bad Place To Be; bossanova bounciness in the infectious, salsa-tinged cover Happiness; electropop layering in the title track. Amongst the best is classic ballad All Time Love, a sentimental, romantic song that should trouble the upper reaches of the chart come Valentine’s Day 2006. It sounds like a grown-up companion piece to Leave Right Now – many a heart will surely soar while listening to it, and live it is set to be a phone-waving moment, even if romantics might prefer to remember lighters-aloft days.
Another surefire hit is the lyrically clever and solidly built Who Am I. Lesser singers would belt out the instantly memorable chorus, but Will reigns his vocals in to sound like he actually means what he’s singing. Another song with interesting lyrics, Save Yourself, seems be an ode to a drug addict and features a shimmering arrangement topped with woozy sax. Once again it is delivered by a singer who seems emotionally connected to the piece. Its polar opposite is the James Brown-style funk of Think It Over, one of several tracks that seem designed entirely to have lots of fun with.
In a more poignant moment, the end of a relationship is delicately observed in the Nitin Sawhney-penned Home. Will’s vocals have never sounded more distinctive, and Sawhney combines elegantly fingered acoustic guitar with a cinematic turn of events midpoint, with strings, pipes and piano fleshing out the song to a lovely orchestral and vocals conclusion. A classic Sawhney track, it could as easily have appeared on one of the scarily brilliant maestro’s own records, but it works well here for a performer who gives the lyrics resonance.
Ultimately it’s how well Will and his collaborators handle Keep On’s range of styles that impresses most. Robbie Williams tries variety, but he doesn’t manage it this successfully.
Only with Madness and All I Want does the album falter; compared to the rest of this spicily varied record they sound relatively generic and rushed. But overwhelmingly Keep On is an impressive work of pop that succeeds in broadening Will’s already considerable adult appeal. Keep On indeed.