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Nov 99

40. MCALMONT AND BUTLER – “Yes”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Singers generally begin to look like their voices. It would be hard to imagine Bryan Ferry or Joe Cocker sounding different once you’ve seen the one’s morose stylishness and the other’s grizzled stolidity. Stephen Malkmus’ quizzical art-yelp hangs well with his quirky, coffee-shop intellectual looks. Dylan grew into his voice, gradually accentuating the mysterious until his wild, iconic look was as unreadably, caustically cool as his singing. And so what would you expect David McAlmont to sound like, once you’d seen him – this silk-wrapped six foot exotic, this decadent fantasy of a pop star? You’d expect precisely what you got.

It’s a mistake to think of McAlmont as a soul singer because the way he sings has little to do with whatever’s inside him. Oh, there’s emotion aplenty in his songs, but it never has to be dredged from anywhere, there’s never the strain you associate with soul: McAlmont makes it sound frictionless, effortless. There’s a narcissistic quality in his regal voice which borders on solipsism, too. On his most upbeat songs, like “Yes”, McAlmont sounds like he’s singing to a mirror, making the David he sees there stand for his departed lover – a real conversation could never be so one-sided, so perfectly dramatic. And in his wandering, sadder songs, McAlmont sounds like he’s singing to the mirror still, desperately hoping something will rise up from it to hear him.

On “Yes”, he’s lucky enough to be working with Bernard Butler, a musical chameleon. People like Bowie get called chameleons and I can never understand why, since that humble lizard’s object is to not be noticed. The metaphor fits Butler, who clocks the singers he’s working with and adjusts his songwriting to suit – Suede’s glory music was as florid and nervy and pushy as Brett Anderson, and with McAlmont he picks up on the slight glassiness and the not-so-slight theatrics in the singing and concocts a backdrop as pointlessly, orchestrally baroque as can be. The result is a showstopper, a wonderfully grandiose might-have-been, as near as the understated and glib times got to producing an honest-to-God anthem, a new “I Will Survive”. And then McAlmont decided he was a soul singer after all, and Butler worked with himself, and since he’s an ordinary, pleasant fellow, he produced ordinary, pleasant music. So it goes.

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