Will Young‘s last album, 2005’s Keep On, was as richly varied as pop albums could be. With scarcely any filler, it ranged from bossa nova beats to an epic, lush collaboration with Nitin Sawhney and threw in some hook-laden singles to boot, confirming Young was here for the long haul. What’s most surprising about the follow-up Let It Go is how much of that experimentation with style has been put to one side on this relatively intimate collection.
Mooted to be more involved than ever with the songwriting process, Young gets co-writing credits on all but two tracks. Much of this work finds him in reflective mood about a relationship that didn’t work out. While he’s quick to point out that Let It Go shouldn’t be seen as a break-up album in the tradition of George Michael‘s timeless Older, the parallels are nevertheless obvious.
Standout track Love takes Michael’s lushly orchestrated yet intimate pop soundscape and edges it some babysteps towards the disco dancefloor, incorporating (Finally) It Has Happened To Me well into its fifth minute and even finding welcome space for a flute. As this seven-minute resounding success happily testifies, despite his intention to concentrate on radio-friendly pop songs, like Keep On’s Home before it this track is epic.
In this latter-day George Michael context, the warm and friendly Disconnected makes sense, and continues along the same trajectory with the record’s biggest grower You Don’t Know. Like much of Young’s best material it’s a million miles away from the chart fodder he’s known for.
Talking of which, lead single Changes, which dominated the airplay charts ahead of release, is a collaboration with Eg White and sounds it. Sporting the same verse-to-swooping-chorus as Adele‘s Chasing Pavements, another of White’s hits, it palls after a couple of listens. Better is the slower paced Grace; initially it seems too slow but as it progresses it allows Young’s pitch-perfect, coquettish voice some headway to run riot. More than anything he’s recorded previously it underlines what a unique instrument that voice is.
Elsewhere, Tell Me The Worst picks the listener up and gives them a cuddle with a nuanced production that has elements of Coldplay‘s winning way with a tune about it. Simple Philosophy, centered on a piano hook, is a grower though once again without much to anchor it from floating away. And the classily produced Are You Happy, despite its relationship break-up lyrics, is one of the record’s funkier moments, replete with scattergun bass and more horns than you could throw Mark Ronson at.
By contrast Won’t Look Down, If Love Equals Nothing and the title track Let It Go sound as though they were written for a Brigit Jones soundtrack that never made it to celluloid. They have little bite to them but plenty of chances for vocal histrionics. Also lacking that final sprinkling of spice is the Style Councilesque I Won’t Give Up, which comes and goes without leaving a trace.
Like the relationship break-up running right through the record, it all ends on a resigned acceptance of the inevitable, the numb-sounding You Don’t Know. As endings go it’s rather a damp squib, never really going anywhere, but in context of the record it makes sense, even if on its own it’s quite forgettable.
For his next trick Young is rumoured to be considering a dance album, having recorded tracks with Groove Armada; doubtless like the rest of his work it will be far from groundbreaking, but a change of direction from this mixed bag of an album’s MOR tendencies next time would be welcome. What’s more, he has the voice to be a disco diva; if he can apply it and get away with it, Young’s best work may yet be to come.