If we were prone to such underhanded, clickbaity ways, we’d headline this review with something like ‘you won’t believe how long it’s been since this pop icon first appeared on TV!!’.
Because it’s been 17 years since Will Young appeared on Pop Idol. Nearly two decades on, he has seven albums to his name, along with a podcast series, acting roles on stage and screen, an appearance on the Question Time panel, and an increasing profile as an LGBTQ activist, campaigner and commentator. He surely tops the charts for longevity.
To the general public Young is arguably still best known for that tense final that saw him pitted against Gareth Gates, and those early singles, Leave Right Now, Who Am I and All Time Love. But remarkably this latest record, Lexicon, is tipped to be his fifth Number 1 album. Perhaps even more remarkably, it comes four years after his last record, 85% Proof, released at a point when he was so low, he was very close to quitting music altogether.
Young has spoken candidly about his mental health struggles, and how the release of 85% Proof affected him. A full breakdown, careful recovery and some bold creative decisions followed, and this new album, Lexicon, is the result.
Releasing it on Cooking Vinyl has given him a renewed sense of independence, and he’s revisited some of the collaborators that helped spawned some of the best work in his back catalogue – including producer Richard X and writer Eg White.
It suits him. His distinctive voice that nudges into a lush falsetto when needed sits over a more sophisticated sound than we’re used to, injected with an electro twist that doesn’t betray his pop roots. But lyrically, it feels almost excruciatingly personal.
It begins on a real high; opening track All The Songs starts with urgently delivered words almost spoken over a faltering piano before lunging into a bouncing, Robyn-esque banger. The lyrics bely a feel good, dance-floor friendly track: “Beginning to cry, that I’m not the one in your arms feels so wrong, I’m not sure how much of this I can take… I’m close to breaking, All this pain, when will it end?” It’s a bold start that lays out what Young wanted to do with this record; archive his struggles and announce his return to music with renewed enthusiasm.
My Love, too, is a brassy pop song, and this is where he thrives. An album that stuck with this chord could’ve reinvented him as a really exciting electro artist. Sadly, the rest of the record doesn’t reach this early peak. It’s packed out with electro-ballads that musically feel cold, and act as a vehicle for his words.
This is a record for wallowing in after a break-up. It’s melodramatic – The Way We Were, Faithless Love and Forever are shamelessly indulgent – but it mostly feels a bit filler-y. Luckily for him, in the days of streaming and downloads, those opening tracks will be plenty to re-stoke the public’s love of Will Young, and hopefully provide a grounding for his next record. Electro Will is in there somewhere – as 2011’s Jealousy proved – and we can’t wait to hear from him again.