Posts from 10th May 2002

10
May 02

Pop-Eye Special: Ronan Keating

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HOLDING ON FOR TOMORROW

If you want to point the finger of blame at someone, Ronan Keating’s as good a target as any. To be crude about it, pop successes in the 90s have appealed to some combo of the four Gs – girls, gays, grannies and geezers. The girls are pretty much a constant. In the early 90s you had Take That, who’d got their start on the gay circuit and to almost the very end kept to a formula of beats, hooks and pecs. Crucially, even their ballads had beats, in a kind of pseudo-swing style. They were up against East 17, who went for geezer appeal – a bit of a roughed-up image, a bit of moodiness, musical concessions to ‘the streets’ (Woolworths Compilation Chart version thereof). OK, no geezers actually like this type of band, so you’ll have to forgive my alliterative stretch there.

Anyway, Boyzone started off as a kit-built Irish Take That (as the oft-repeated clip of their early Sunday Show appearance in Village People clobber proves). Then someone – probably manager Louis Walsh – hit on a change of direction, and suddenly the granny-market was cracked wide open. Again, a bit of an unfair label – I’ve no evidence that the nation’s pensioners were actually flocking to buy Boyzone’s porridgey ballads, but there was always more than a whiff of Sunday evening variety TV about the group; they seemed at home in the world of Val Doonican than Ant and Dec. And Boyzone begat Westlife and Westlife begat Will Young and here we are, with Ronan Keating, the charming godfather of Grannypop notching up another Number One. Such a nice boy.

“If Tomorrow Never Comes” is rhythmless, driveless, and entirely surpriseless. “Bland” is a supremely overused word in pop – in cookery, it implies a dull absence of flavour, whereas most modern pop risks if anything overflavouring. But yes, if I’d use the word on anyone I’d surely use it on Keating. What gets me most about his pitiful records, and the records of his progeny, and the records of his spiritual cousins Travis or Starsailor, is how grown-up they sound, in that semi-literal sense of limits being reached, no developing left to do, no decisions left to make. But pop – for me – is a constant reminder that you never stop growing up. Not in some stupid sixteen-forever Peter Pan way: pop’s promise to me was that there are always new things to hear and new ways to feel, even if ‘new’ just means shivering to the same beats in a slightly different way.

But Keating – such awful entropy! “Insincerity” isn’t the problem – if anything the man’s too sincere, too convinced of what he’s doing. The only way I could like Keating, could respond to him, is if I agreed with him that the time-honoured, emotion-steeped, novelty-free way he makes his pop was the right way to make it. And because my sense of pop and my sense of self have got foolishly entangled somewhere down the line, the only way I could do that is to have a perfect satisfaction with my own life and decisions, to have no itches left for pop to scratch. I don’t have that satisfaction and I don’t want it – no, that’s not true, I don’t want to stop wanting it. Or to put it another way – “Van Morrison has never made and could never make a bad record.”. That was from Mojo – a paraphrase. But if I ever write a sentence like it and mean it, something’s gone wrong.