(#533: 2 September 1995, 1 week)
Track listing: Together/Coming Home Now/Love Me For A Reason/Oh Carol/When All Is Said And Done/So Good/Can’t Stop Me/I’ll Be There/Key To My Life/If You Were Mine/Arms Of Mary/Believe In Me/Father And Son
When Louis Walsh set about auditioning and recruiting the members of Boyzone in the Dublin of 1993, his declared ambition was to form the “Irish Take That,” and, like Take That, the band – as their very name would indicate – gathered their initial experience performing in gay clubs and pubs; their early, atypical appearance on RTE’s The Late, Late Show confirmed these initial aims.
Some of that residual high energy is intermittently evident in their first album. “Together,” if taken as a mid-nineties post-House club banger, is really not bad at all, showing determination and purpose. Aptly, given the Take That template to even out, “Believe In Me” pursues the mood and setting of “Pray.”
Mostly, however, this is fastidiously-tooled, easy-on-the-ear, middle-of-the-road pop; it is, however, salutary that the band members get co-composer credits on many of these songs (although it clearly took pros like Ray Hedges and Martin Brannigan to help knock the ideas into a commercial shape). The music, to my ears, takes a step up whenever Stephen Gately is up front – he does a very convincing Michael Jackson on “Can’t Stop Me,” and his counter tenor, balancing out Ronan Keating’s gruff authority on the record’s most intriguing song, “Oh Carol*,” helps escort the performance into areas of androgyny.
(*Pointedly far more harmonically intriguing than the group’s usual work, “Oh Carol” was co-written by Hedges with Des Dyer and Clive Scott, of the seventies group Jigsaw, who in themselves also composed some of that decade’s oddest pop songs, including Candlewick Green’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”)
I have to be honest (because what is the point of this tale if I am not?) – this is not my type of musical thing at all. I did not purchase or listen to this record out of personal preference. But then again, this record, in keeping with the band as a whole, is not meant for people like me at all.
Boyzone are essentially for young teenage girls, growing up and gradually finding out things about the world and themselves, who are aware of the existence of something called love but are not yet fully confident about assimilating it. To help them do that, this pop music acts as a gentle guide, comforting and reassuring them about the absolute and central importance of romance in the world of love, offering them a hand of premature, and perhaps parental, compassion (many Boyzone consumers were parents, buying the records, videos, tour tickets and merchandise for their kids). A beneficent escort towards adolescence is what this sort of pop offers those who decide to love it; the loving gaze which Gately bestows to the camera – to his audience – at the beginning of the “Key To My Life” video, before the song has even begun playing – emphasises this very vital intention of reassurance.
Walsh’s marketing was typically very canny. There are three cover versions here, one of which gave the band their first hit single, all of which are from the seventies – thus giving the fans’ parents a sense of inclusive identity and continuity with songs they recognise, perhaps from their own youth. It is pointless to say that, for instance, this “Arms Of Mary” might iron out most (although, crucially, not all) of the complex and affecting chords of the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver original, because the Sutherland Brothers, like Cat Stevens and the Osmonds, probably mean nothing to the children of the nineties, even as they might mean everything to their parents (aren’t they nice, doing those old songs we know so well?).
The Osmonds act as a useful parallel, though. It is equally fruitless to ponder on the syntactical defect at the heart of the lyric to “Love Me For A Reason” and skip over its three equivalents near the core of the contemporaneous “You Make Me Feel Brand New” because, to those of whichever generation loves either or both of these songs (Johnny Bristol or Thom Bell; your call), it simply does not matter; both songs bestow their intended effects, and both bands were there for their identical demographics at the time when they were needed.
This record ends with “Father And Son,” the song Ronan Keating performed at his audition to become part of Boyzone. If its words sound rather premature coming from someone who was no more than sixteen or seventeen at the time, then remember that Cat Stevens wrote the song when he was barely twenty. Keating’s interpretation does little for me, but I cannot ignore the fact that his rendition of the song onstage frequently moved the band’s audience to tears.
Boyzone are going to become regular visitors to Then Play Long, as eventually will Keating as a solo artist. My reception may find its undue limits; there is only so much one can say about what is essentially a well-fashioned formula. But the tentative, and hopefully inclusive, tone of my review may come as a welcome relief from the red-nosed clowning of the “I don’t like this so it’s no good” anti-school of music criticism which certain writers have made tiresomely familiar. Allow me to conclude with a triad of premises from Neale Walsch’s 1995 book Conversations With God, the importance of which was certainly acknowledged by Stephen Gately:
things are one, there is no polarity, no right or wrong, no disharmony, but
“We are not here to learn anything new but to remember what we already know."
“One cannot understand one thing unless he or she understands its opposite."