Lee Williscroft-Ferris listens to Lexicon, the seventh studio album by Will Young.
Enduring success eludes the sad majority of reality music show alumni with very few exceptions. Back in 2002, Will Young defied all expectations to win the inaugural season of Pop Idol over hot favourite, Gareth Gates. At a time when appealing to the teenage girl market was widely perceived to be a non-negotiable pre-requisite for public popularity, when asked who his ‘perfect girlfriend’ would be, Young famously replied ‘the Queen’, thereby deftly avoiding the shitstorm of coming out before he was ready to with a characteristic humour that has accompanied him throughout his subsequent career. He also took on Simon Cowell when the latter had the temerity to describe his vocal performance as ‘average’. His reputation was established.
Six albums and several TV and film appearances later (including a brief stint on Strictly Come Dancing before withdrawing), Young is back with Lexicon. Produced by Richard X, the twelve-track album is a testament to all that makes the 40-year-old so enigmatic; at once vulnerable, moving and honest.
Opener and lead single, ‘All The Songs’ is one of the best tracks to be released in 2019 so far. Like the overdue twin to Robyn’s legendary ‘Dancing On My Own’ and set to a rip-roaring dance beat, its bittersweet impact is owed largely to the lyrics, charting the pain of struggling to move on when the person who broke your heart very much has (‘Can’t escape from these chains / All the songs remind me of you’). The video further underscores Young’s unique ability to be self-deprecating yet profound at the same time.
Richard X’s production, which so elevated 2011’s Echoes, arguably the zenith of Young’s career thus far, is matched by the nuance and poise of Young’s vocal delivery. Over the course of the last 18 years (yes, really), his voice has gradually matured while retaining the character that makes it so instantly recognisable. Each track wraps itself effortlessly around Young’s timbre – a sublime marriage that makes for a remarkably elegant musical experience.
Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Scars’, on which Young continues to explore the theme of lost love (‘We’re putting fires out with flames / But baby, you’re the high I can’t replace’) over blissful shimmering synth. But, as is typical of Young’s lyrical dexterity, the vibe changes to one of self-confident challenge on ‘I Bet You Call’, with the singer placing a sonic bet on the ex who cast him aside calling on him to provide a shoulder to cry on when the man who replaced him calls it a day (‘I bet you call / I bet you can’t help yourself / I know you’re drunk on wasted love / You think you’re free / I think you’re still locked up’).
The album features some outright ‘bops’ too. Alongside the aforementioned opener, ‘Forever’, for example, is a 90s dance-tinged highlight with a super-catchy chorus sure to get your head nodding. Second single, ‘My Love’, with its piano-driven hook and smooth bass line, cries out to be played at full volume with the car windows open.
Lexicon is the album that was never meant to be. Following some well-publicised mental health issues, Young had publicly renounced his music career in favour of other ventures. It was only after some tentative studio sessions with Richard X that the project organically came to life. The best oeuvres are precisely those born out of pain, sorrow and loss and the consequence of an unforced, cathartic process.
40 years old and 18 years into a career that has withstood the waxing and waning tide of public fickleness, Will Young has succeeded in spawning a work that inescapably and admirably charts his past and present to stunning effect. This rings out clearly for the duration of Lexicon, an album that represents the latest staging post in a discography that has consistently reflected the qualities that underpin Young’s abiding popularity and commercial success.
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