Will Young: Let It Go (Album)

On the first listen of Will Young‘s first studio album in three years, he seems to have achieved the impossible and made the difficult compromise of moving on from the more experimental ‘Keep On’, without losing his trademark sound entirely. It’s regrettable that the album takes so few risks, but there is a definite evolution on key tracks like ‘Grace’, ‘Tell Me The Worst’ and ‘I Won’t Give Up’, with Will using producers other than Steve Lipson for the first time. It’s a change which without question pays off – the album’s sound is the most consistent of any in his catalogue, and there’s also little doubt that RCA’s boast that ‘Let It Go’ was sellable in any territory is actually true – good timing, particularly considering this album showcases his best vocals of his career. It has however lost a sense of innovation, and a freshness which ‘Friday’s Child’ had in almost every track – it feels almost too thought out. I’m sure it’s an effect of his feeling more settled in himself, and will probably have a strong commercial effect, but I miss the vibrancy of some of his earlier work.

Second single ‘Grace’ is without question the standout track of the album, showing subtleties in his ability, whilst giving him a rare chance on this album to cut loose. It’s frustrating that the same edge is missing in so much of the rest of the work – whilst the orchestral arrangements are quite beautiful musically, I don’t feel they show his abilities as a singer off as well as the more acoustic, gospel choir-based numbers he’d perfected earlier in his career. His sheer musicality, continued refusal to make corporate music and clear joy in his work more than make up for what are after all small disappointments however; the weakest tracks are far better than most new material out there. It’s an 8/10 for me overall, but click below for the track-by-track review.

Changes

A strong track to choose for a comeback. A sweeping mid-tempo anthem with a bittersweet edge. Yes it has overtones of his career-defining megahit ‘Leave Right Now’, but it’s hardly surprising considering it was co-written by Eg White, author of LRN. Standing out are razor sharp lyrics, which it shares with previous lead song ‘Switch It On’, but here it’s the voice which trumps everything. He’s clearly realising he can say the same things, show anger, discomfort or unhappiness with his lot, but doesn’t have to rebel so seriously as to throw out his defining sound and approach entirely. Smart move, he’s learning. 8/10

Grace

Perhaps the song to bump ‘Your Game’ off Will’s top spot. This dark, broody soul fest has similarly edgy vocals to ‘Changes’, but the production really comes into its own here. Will’s vocals came directly from the demo of the song, which moves through distinctly dark corridors, backed up by the cleverest production he’s yet had, knowing when to pare back down, and when to lift the song right up. Even if there were no other good song on the album (there are), this song alone would have justified the multi-year wait. It’s quite rightly scheduled to be single no.2 in December and my real regret of the album is that so little of it is in the same vein. 10/10

Won’t Look Down

The Simply Red/Gabrielle-esque sound many have attributed to this album is heavily in evidence here, but this feels out of place. It’s a step back to debut album ‘From Now On’ – well-meaning but very sappy and instantly forgettable. Preaching to the converted in a contracting market smacks of complacency or indifference, which I don’t actually think he’s guilty of, and I wish the feeling weren’t there. As with the rest of the album the vocals are crisp, for the most part unfiltered, and the arrangement is highly professional. I’m just left not caring. 5/10

I Won’t Give Up

And we swing back into broader commercial territory, with the track co-produced by the Freemasons. A song which wouldn’t be out of place on a George Michael album (and this what I was expecting from the disappointing ‘Patience’), the production and vocals are quite sublime on what is one of a handful of very obvious singles. Very funky and very much playing to his broadest strengths, it’s very strong evidence of evolution from ‘Keep On’ – this is a really mature piece of work which could be sold by the truck load pretty much everywhere. 9/10

Tell Me The Worst

A complete surprise. Another mid-tempo song, perfectly produced, again with strong lyrics, and perhaps the strongest vocals of his recording career. They are the defining aspects of this album as promised after all – he really shines here – it sounds just like he’s singing into your ear. Quite right too, for the man whose career started entirely because of his voice. If this doesn’t get released as a single someone’s lost their mind entirely. A very sad song, but dramatic where it needs to be and uplifting. He himself has noted the Verve-esque strings arrangement late on in the song, and it’s one of multiple elements which make this a contender for the strongest song on the album. 10/10

Disconnected

Not the painful mush-fest that it felt on first listen, in fact it’s a deceptively clever song. But again it’s preaching to the converted. Acknowledged as an ode to his last boyfriend (a brave move to make, regardless of his popularity), it sticks with the trademark element of a jaunty, almost predictable arrangement on top of bittersweet lyrics. I’m not a fan of the chorus at all, but the delivery of the intensely personal verses is impressive. It’s fitting in strongly to the tone of the album, and it’s nice not to have the chaos of ‘Keep On’, but I’m left wondering whether he’s now settling into a comfort zone and if that’s a good thing or not. 6/10

If Love Equals Nothing

Gabrielle-esque blues is a welcome addition to his repertoire. The orchestral arrangement, as with Tell Me The Worst, is superb, the lyrics are very strong, making this a solid album track. It’s the excellent delivery though which really makes it stand out. He’s so much better a singer now than in 2001 – that’s the biggest sign of all of evolution, and it’s the biggest quality he has over the Blunts and Morrisons of this world. 8/10

Love

One of his favourite songs on the album, which he champions for its sheer musicality, this is the ‘Friday’s Child’, the ‘Home’ of this album, clocking in at nearly seven minutes. It’s genuinely funky and the musicianship here is indeed great, but in reaching for a 70s vibe, the vocals come off far too produced, and it’s frustrating; it comes across as him needing to cut loose but failing to. Maybe that was the intention, but to me it comes across a little too clever, although it’ll be devastating live. 7/10

Simple Philosophy

Boring. Strictly filler material. Is there a soulful quality to the song and the delivery? Sure. It’s just instantly forgettable, although the chorus has a mildly effective hook. It’s an example of the missed opportunities on this album – in an eagerness to make the body of work sound consistent, it regularly goes too middle of the road. I really wish he’d taken more risks with ‘Let It Go’. 6/10

Let It Go

Extremely raw, with the same, strong production from earlier in the album, which knows where to pare back to first-take vocals and then lift the song somewhere else entirely. Very clearly drawn from demo vocals, it really does sound like his first time singing it, which adds enormous atmosphere, often not in evidence elsewhere on the album. Great sentiments to be singing, spot on delivery, you can’t help but realise this is Britain’s smartest male pop act. 10/10

Are You Happy

Not bad, but not quite up to the same standard as the standout tracks at the beginning of the album. It does play to his strengths – it’s funky, upbeat and he gets his chance to cut loose. Although it’s very much an album track, he avoids the sappy element being played up elsewhere on the album, which is a relief. I wish there’d been more of this – straightforward fun is more than enough for an album track. 8/10

You Don’t Know

A strong, quirky song. Haunting, untouched vocals with a pitch-perfect orchestral arrangement, which is perfectly produced – this is more like it. As ever, when there’s an edge either in the music or the lyrics, he becomes more interesting. It sounds very much like a stage production too, which should make this a standout song should he sing it live. 8/10

Free My Mind

Nice to have at the official end of the album, a very relaxing chill-out song which his voice is very well suited for. Will he release the double-album he says he’s written with Groove Armada? I bloody hope so! 8/10

This is Who I Am

An iTunes bonus track, and it’s odd. Really belonging to a b-side, it does continue the themes of the album – strong production and orchestral arrangements, and he does get to cut loose, but it doesn’t quite work. The overly dramatic chorus is jarring and the song is never really accessible, although its dark tone is interesting. 5/10

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