I don’t know what you lot are complaining about sometimes. A number one hitmaker from the 70s returns with a thundering mid-paced synth-rock track in which speculation on alternative existences becomes a tool for considering the metaphysics of love? Frankly, who even needs “Running Up That Hill” at number one when you have “If I Was”?
Perhaps “Do They Know It’s Christmas” had awoken an unsuspected popular taste for the thoughts of Midge Ure, Philosopher. If so, this fully satisfied it – his further singles, generally more cryptic though no less doughy and earnest, are not on our agenda. “If I Was”, essentially, takes the worst line from Elton’s “Your Song”, cries, “but then again, YES!” and runs doggedly through a series of unlikely Midgeian careers that would secure the love of his intended. Among them is “dishing up love to a hungry world” – a coy reminder for the public somewhat spoiled by frightening later talk of Ure’s “hot food of love from above”. If he was a poet – but he’s not, and the high comic clumsiness of the lyric is the closest the song comes to a virtue.
Musically this is almost as pure an example of the 1985 sound as you’ll find. Box-fresh synthesisers gliding and soaring above Midge like antiseptic seagulls. No snare left ungated. And the guitar sound! The word “industrial” has sadly been taken by music that’s generally aggressive and preposterous – the guitars on “If I Was” bring to mind a different face of modern industry, the endless clean chunk-chunk-chunk of the milk bottling plants and biscuit factories that used to be shown in the educational bits of pre-school TV.
As for Midge Ure himself, the combination of the lyrics, the strained delivery, and the sense of abjection in the face of love makes him seem like Phil Collins after too long in the self-help section. “Carrying the weight of popular demand” – no no, I assure you Midge, the weight is all ours. Few acts of charity in the wake of Band Aid were more generous than the record-buying public taking this to Number One.