If one considers him at all, it’s easy to forget that Lee Ryan is still just 22 years of age. One quarter of Blue, one of the biggest boy bands of the last decade, Ryan’s looks have won him a contract as a clothes horse for Dolce & Gabbana and admiring glances from girls of a certain age, Elton John and Robbie Williams. It is the latter’s career since leaving Take That that Ryan perhaps hopes to mimic with this, his solo debut.
He has the looks and, like Boyzone‘s Ronan Keating, he possesses the most distinctive voice of his ensemble. So far, so good – but what about the songs?
The eponymously titled record showcases vocal prowess but is not suggestive of a distinctive artistic voice being given free rein. Amongst the credited writers are Martin Harrington and Ash Howes, who between them have helped Natalie Imbruglia and Dido‘s fledgling careers. Their songs are a mixed bag of made-to-order drivetime ditties and flaccid shelf filler.
Single Army Of Lovers belongs in the former category. Completely avoiding the kind of cringeworthy lyrics one might have expected of such a record, it displays Ryan’s undoubted talent for expressing emotion over some really rather sweet lyrics and is then gone in a flash. Turn Your Car Around is one of several songs that call to mind Ms Imbruglia – guitars and synths combining to make a sound that’s just the wrong side of cool. But again, Ryan’s voice is the best thing about it.
Miss My Everything – musically the most interesting track on the album – suggests a certain nod and wink in the direction of Marvin Gaye, while Daydreamer starts off sounding like The Spice Girls‘ Viva Forever before heading off to warble about “dreamtime”.
Plumstead’s favourite son acquits himself further with Real Love, a vaguely soulful slice of catchy pop, but Parking is like Daniel Bedingfield in one of his ghastly overblown ballad moments, Wish The Whole World Knew musically just doesn’t work and Close To You is (of course) not a patch of The Cure‘s classic of the same title. But that’s okay – Ryan wasn’t even in kindergarten when Robert Smith’s gang were making that whole dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards look the epitome of cool.
And Lee Ryan isn’t, even if he does include lyrics about skydiving in the Imbrugliaesque Jump (surely a single, with Ryan’s most concerted attempt at a Ronan-like growl). The record as a whole has been produced to death, with any genuine emotion eradicated and the space it occupied polished down and sprayed with designer label perfume. In consequence, despite some strong moments – it’s worth holding on for In The Morning – this solo debut is unlikely to break Ryan beyond Blue’s traditional catchment. Unlike Robbie and Ronan, thus far Ryan hasn’t taken the solo opportunity to make a definitive musical break and reinvent himself, leaving his vocal histrionics as the staple in an otherwise undernourishing meal.
If Ryan is to exist beyond the land of tabloid fodder and costume modelling and forge a convincing career as an artist he’ll need to stamp his authority on his next record and eschew myriad writers in favour of highlighting his own vision. Until then, the jury’s out, but at least he has time on his side to get it right.