Album Reviews

Blue – Heart & Soul

(Tag8) UK release date: 28 October 2022

The re-energised boyband’s natural chemistry finds them putting their own spin on a pot-luck array of contemporary styles

Blue - Heart & Soul The prospect of a new record by boyband Blue takes one back two decades, to the heady days of Sven-Goran Eriksson, foot-and-mouth disease and Stargate’s MIDI guitar licks soundtracking a veritable cottage industry of British pop acts. Despite this, the foursome take the intriguing decision to eschew nostalgia, and instead pick an array of more contemporary styles to put their own spin on. The results of this approach vary significantly, and despite clocking in at 30 minutes Heart & Soul is pot luck in musical form.

Haven’t Found You Yet was most likely recorded around 2016, with its explosive drop and squiggly post-hook earworm, but passionate delivery sells the tune nicely and the album is off to a solid start. What follows is an attempt to replicate the success of Too Close, when Blue gave the underrated Next song of the same name a new lease of life. The only problem? 112’s Dance With Me was never anything more than tepid Harlem-Shaking froth, and while the production is competent and Simon Webbe’s rap verse lifts the mood, nothing can save the “if you’re sexy and you know it clap your hands” section.

At various points on Heart & Soul the reference track is so obvious that it might as well be directly sampled, although this doesn’t mean the music isn’t worthwhile. Ultraviolet captures the minimal pulsing feel of a Meduza track with style and panache, syncopated lyrics and moody M1 organ gelling perfectly, and it’s possible that with their superior sense of drama Blue even beat Justin Bieber at his own game with the Anyone-esque This Could Be Love. Crucially the latter song also gives Lee Ryan an opportunity to belt out some high-notes, which no Blue album would be complete without.

Let’s Get Sad justifies its novel title as an appeal for emotional catharsis (“Let’s get sad, get it over / let the weight fall off our shoulders / ‘cause my heart is beating slower / let’s just blow away, blow away”) but the songwriting doesn’t do enough to make this sentiment meaningful, while the production goes for a self-serious aesthetic and uses every cheap trick in the book. Elsewhere Man Do straddles the border between sexy and humorous in its performative subjugation – Bruno Mars must be kicking himself for never pledging to ‘kill a random guy for you’ – and would work well were it not for the over-egged slapback reverb distracting from the tune.

Unfortunately vocal production also undermines closing track Stop, as the soulful piano and endearing lyrical concept are accompanied by diabolical backing harmonies. Blue’s approach to group singing has generally been more football chant than All-4-One, and while it would be churlish to kill their ambitions they need more studio assistance to pull that kind of transition off. The title track is a far more effective turn, with Joel Corry’s banging house beats shamelessly appropriated for a ridiculously catchy tale of infatuation, with some extra crunchy chords thrown in for good measure.

Elton John has done many good things for the world but advising Blue to quit while the going was good, leaving them with one-hit-wonder solo careers and a seven-year hiatus, was not one of them. The group have a natural chemistry that guides Heart & Soul through its lowest points and at its best they sound re-energised, every bit as deserving of a second wind as, say, Craig David. If the record label lets them stick around for album two we can hope for more polish and less filler. But for now they’ve outperformed low expectations and can breathe easy.

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Blue – Heart & Soul