Olly Alexander, singer with London trio Years & Years, could answer both in the affirmative. No doubt his falsetto tones carried over the rush of water when bassist Mikey Goldsworthy heard him at a friend’s house, establishing he was good enough to join the band.
It is a wholesome story for sure, and one that confirms the band’s clean image. Since that encounter the rest has been history – Years & Years won the BBC Sound Of 2015 award, and now they are lined up as the biggest major album for Global Release Day, where the music industry goes all retro and decides to do its business worldwide on a Friday rather than a Monday.
So far, so good – but does their debut album carry enough weight to justify the hype? Comparing it with the previous Sound Of 2015 winner, Sam Smith, proves instructive. For a start Communion packs more of a pop punch – but that’s rather like saying crisps are crunchier than lettuce. Alexander’s vocals are not dissimilar though, impressive when reaching the heights but not always hitting the heart of a song’s emotions.
Take Shelter, the formulaic and first obvious album track, is a case in point – as is Worship, a song that goes heavy on the auto-tune to make Alexander sound like a male equivalent of Ellie Goulding. Thankfully a decent chorus gets him out of that particular hole – which can be said about most of the songs here, because they are nothing if not well written. The same happens with Eyes Shut, which initially sounds like a faster version of Smith’s Stay With Me – and Memo, which also has echoes of Alexander’s friend and contemporary.
Rising far above the competition are the songs Real, Shine and Foundations. Real is a brilliant pop song, its throbbing bass line underpinning a heartfelt plea for love and acceptance, the textures soaring in response to Alexander’s vocal in a beautiful yet fragile moment. Shine has a much heavier tread, its production suggesting the potential for the band to be cast right into the middle of a heaving, sweating dancefloor. Turned up loud, it works a treat. Foundations offers a brave alternative, opening the album without beats, Alexander given the bare minimum of accompaniment as he wears his heart on his sleeve.
Communion’s minimal song titles are indicative of a no-nonsense approach to song writing – but like most good pop songs they unpeel different layers of production with repeated listening. This attention to detail bodes well for Years & Years as a band, as a couple of these tracks develop into full blown ear worms – and at the time of reporting have no plans to leave in a hurry.
“I’m going to the border, my body it will be stronger”, sings Alexander in Border, “my heart it will start to shine, and I will be alright”. He has the courage of his convictions here – and ironically this is one of several songs on Communion that you, too, could sing in the shower.