A friend of mine recently slammed “Without You” as obnoxious emotional blackmail. Fair enough, but there’s enough of the old Wedding Present fan in me to enjoy the occasional wallow in passive-aggressive neediness, and wallows don’t come much more luxurious than this. “Without Me” is an inheritor of the Engelbert style – the same combination of heart-tugging topic, smooth vocals, and sumptuous instrumental chassis. But the formula’s had some highly effective upgrades too. “Without Me” may be highly arranged but it doesn’t sound remotely old-timey: Richard Perry’s mix avoids orchestral bludgeon to let pretty details catch your ear. Nilsson, too, gets intimate when he needs to – starting pensive, and later letting his voice crack on the big second chorus.
The result is maybe the first ballad on the lists that sounds “modern” – if an X Factor contestant decided to hit with “Without You”, they could use this arrangement and production and it wouldn’t sound like a retro or genre exercise. It also probably wouldn’t sound this good – Nilsson’s singing on the verses is deliciously creamy, and even if he doesn’t quite convince me on the not-living thing, his performance still has an emotional kick, dramatising the horribly slender, slippable gap between acceptance and despair.