Seven years after winning Pop Idol Will Young is still singing, still signed to Sony and still in the public eye.
His longevity might be explained in part by his easy charm, but as Marianne Faithfull would tell you, you can only slide through life on it for so long. What else has he got in his toolbox?
For tonight’s album launch he’s in the swanky Chelsea home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cadogan Hall, to preview his fourth record, Let It Go.
His faithful audience are all set for a white knuckle ride; according to door staff, Young has been in the building since 8am to ensure everything is just so, and that his followers don’t leave disappointed.
Bouncing on stage like an excitable bunny clad in black with a contrasting pale jacket, he’s immediately wibbling away to his audience as though over a brew. Shrieks and hyperventilation emit from various parts of the venue as Young’s girls scream for their gay. It’s all a tad nonplussing.
There’s a story about parking tickets; he once as good as told the world that getting parking tickets was one of his defining features, but today he recounts being borderline dismissive to a traffic warden. The shock; he seemed like such a nice boy. He’d also be introducing his band, he informs us, but later; “it’s all about me”, he grins, the famously toothsome grin rewarded with more shrieks. Whether he’s fallen on the confident or arrogant side of that famously thin line, his devotees here don’t mind.
In a live setting, with the bass turned up, much of the new material holds its own against the old. There are genuinely excellent pop nuggets; the airplay-dominating single Changes (“I love it!” he proclaims), the slow burn of Grace and the ambitious Love are all radio-friendly gems, and in the hands of the six-piece band and the string quartet they wouldn’t sound out of place in a Richard Curtis film.
But it’s Young’s star appeal that raises the whole enterprise from passable and wins out in the end. Note perfect throughout and svelte as a greyhound, he cuts a dashing figure; not quite old enough to have reached George Michael‘s Older period, but well past the teeny-bop of early Robbie Williams, his look, sound and manner remain unique, even as he glides towards his 30th birthday.
As expected, tracks from Let It Go dominate, with a mere sprinkling of back catalogue hits for punctuation. Your Game was the first oldie to be aired and caused female posteriors to thrust out of seats and wiggle voluptiously as their owners turned karaoke queens for the choruses.
New album writers include Sia, whose laid-back work on her solo albums and with Zero 7 make her a good fit for Young’s lounge-lite ouevre, and while on the album things can border on the insipid occasionally, there are no such qualms tonight.
He doesn’t take his shirt off on stage anymore, he tells us, easily holding the room in thrall. Somebody stole a vintage Mickey Mouse t-shirt he ripped off at a festival and, once bitten, he’s not going down that road again. The palpatating hearts of girls around the room sink just a little.
Then things take a turn for the unexpected with a cover of Joan Armatrading‘s Show Some Emotion. It’s one to be filed under “need to hear this again” as it rather floats by without leaving much impression.
He closes with the hit Leave Right Now, garnished with an extended instrumental outro. As Young and his band bow, one almost expects flowers to be flung at him. It’s been a short, sugary sweet and surely unique Chelsea evening.