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Jun 10

BROS – “I Owe You Nothing”

FT + Popular91 comments • 5,802 views

#611, 25th June 1988, video

There’s a performance-based definition of one-hit wonders, but there should be an aesthetic definition too. There are poor groups who make one important single, who against all expectations Get It Right on a particular occasion and leave the studio with something worthwhile – a record that owns its moment even, that you could put in a time capsule and 100 years from now would tell people something about what it meant to be young and alive in (say) 1988. The fascinatingly horrible Bros are, I would argue, one of those groups. Unfortunately “I Owe You Nothing” isn’t their one great record.

That would be “When Will I Be Famous?”, the most honest boy band hit of them all, four minutes of acquisitional hunger and ruthless raw need. It’s catchy, it’s funny, it sums up the gel-soaked stonewashed grotesqueness of Bros and casts a light on their tacky times. It’s a venomous pop star character study and all the more compelling because you’re pretty sure it’s actually true. And, reluctantly, I’m not meant to be writing about it. I have to write about “I Owe You Nothing” instead, the pawky runt of the early Bros litter. “Drop The Boy”, their other initial smash, isn’t very good either, but it’s unintentionally funny – these pleas for maturity juxtaposed with their signature “ROO-AWRR” sound, the noise of a rutting gerbil.

There’s plenty of hot rodent sex on “I Owe You Nothing” too, but it starts brightly: dive-bombing synths and a hustling bassline. It’s only later that the song starts loses its way, running out of musical ideas and papering that over with a momentum-killing instrumental break and increasingly purposeless grunts and yaps from Matt Goss. The overall feel is busy and tinny, very much in line with Stock Aitken Waterman orthodoxy, but SAW’s cheerfulness (and their feel for a verse melody) is missing: instead “I Owe You Nothing” jabs and nips at its audience and its subject. “I watch you SUFFER with no feelings – no feelings at all”: I don’t think there’s been as spiteful a number one as this since “Out Of Time”. But even though Bros’ spite is interesting, the performance and arrangement doesn’t give it much force.

Spite seems key to the Bros project, though, and to their strange season of hugeness – only really scuppered when they were allowed to write their own material. Manager Tom Watkins obviously knew that the oddness of the Bros package – cold-eyed, chiselled twins on the make – was the stuff of hits given the right angle. Tender wouldn’t cut it – Matt Goss was too shrill a singer – so the way to go was to play up the Goss brothers’ icky aloofness. For anyone outside the target audience, they were created to be hated, marrying the glossy selfishness of the handsome with the insular selfishness of the twinned to make records powered deliberately by a mix of malice and entitlement. In fact, even for people inside the target audience they seem an anomaly and a risk, at least compared to the sure-thing boybands who would boss the 1990s. Bros the phenomenon are more interesting than a lot of the people we meet on this blog – but that doesn’t make this record much better.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    wichita lineman on 30 Jun 2010 #

    Re 74: Good call. Heinz didn’t do himself any favours in the Joe Meek Arena doc (circa ’91) snarling “where did all the money go?” All the money from his solitary no.5 hit. And this was after Meek bought him a speedboat amongst other toys.

  2. 77
    23 Daves on 30 Jun 2010 #

    #76 – I watched “Telstar” and the Arena documentary back to back with a friend of mine, and at the end of all this he had to conclude sadly: “God, Heinz really *was* an unlikable prat, wasn’t he? I thought they were exaggerating everything, but that actor really nailed him!”

    We’re frequently expected to feel sorry for Heinz because he died with only a fiver to his name (or something – people seem to rant and rave about this on YouTube a lot underneath his videos) but really, if someone refuses to see the error of their ways or their attitude right until their final days, I’d say that’s their own lookout. He had more fame and success than he truly deserved, and certainly more than most of us would ever rightfully expect for ourselves.

    Much the same could be said of the Goss twins and their bankruptcy woes.

  3. 78

    I think the Telstar actor did something else, too: he caught hints of what it was Meek was maybe drawn to, a kind of goofy now-and-then charisma that was nothing like the way Heinz wanted to BE as a performer, but was there to be used if he’d had more self-awareness, there but swamped in the useless tantrummy unlikeable side of him. Because you don’t entirely think what the HELL DID JOE SEE IN THIS GUY!?? (It’s not like he was simply handing the plum role to his cute boyf who was amazing in bed and the onstage stuff didn’t matter….) There’s moments when the crush nearly sorta kinda makes sense.

    (In other words, I too think the actor nailed it…)

  4. 79
    DietMondrian on 1 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve cast JJ Feild (who played Heinz) as Damon Albarn in the biopic of Blur I have in my head.

  5. 80
    wichita lineman on 1 Jul 2010 #

    Sukrat, I’m not sure it went far past blind infatuation. Even ignoring the tantrums, Heinz could barely sing and in his one cinematic vehicle that survives – Live It Up – he comes over as gormless and charmless.

    A lot of his records are better than people would have you believe, mind, probably because Meek put the same effort into them as HDH did for the Supremes. Questions I Can’t Answer helped Germany get to the Pop World Cup final, You Were There has an intriguingly ambiguous (ie gay) lyric, I’m Not A Bad Guy is genuinely fierce with v tough guitar work.

  6. 81
    Tommy Mack on 1 Jul 2010 #

    I felt genuinely sorry for him in the scene where he’s sitting on the bed with Joe and saying something like ‘People just don’t like me, what if they never like me?’, unable to see that he’s brought it on himself, his need to be liked making him behave in the most unlikeable manner imaginable.

    You can’t imagine Bros experiencing that sort of humbling moment, just more greed and resentment towards the people for disowning them out of jealousy etc.

  7. 82
    Tommy Mack on 1 Jul 2010 #

    Another thing that occurred to me (I’ve been thinking about Bros more than they really deserve!), the sort of aspirational hostility Bros deliver (We’re ace, you’re sh t, we’re going to destroy you on our way to the top) is unusual in rock/pop, but is a staple of rap.

    I suppose it’s more palatable to come accross like a self-centred peacockish sociopath if it’s assumed that you’re escaping the ghetto and have seen enough sh t to justify your ‘me against the world’ ethos. Like Lily Allen seemed a lot less fun once you found out her lineage; the spunky braggadocio of a young upstart turned the tantrums of a spoilt brat.

  8. 83
    Dominic on 4 Jul 2010 #

    Actually I think Bros were strange among boy-bands (if that what they were, and I suppose it is) in that they had a bit of a solidly heterosexual white working-class male fan base as well as the screaming girls.. (I knew of several such blokes in Dagenham, and also Stevenage – this is nothing to do with metrosexuality!). The whole Grolsch-bottle top-on-shoe wearing thing, the sort of obnoxious laddishness. To be fair some of their tunes weren’t bad, although I have to agree that “When Will I Be Famous?” is heads and shoulders above the rest

  9. 84
    abaffledrepublic on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #21: supposedly Craig (Ken?) found out he was leaving the group by walking into the management’s offices at the end of the year and spotting piles of calendars with pictures of just the Goss bros. This could be apocryphal but given the unpleasant reputation of the group and manager under discussion, it sounds believable enough.

    #61: Matt (it was definitely Matt) had a brief shot at a solo career in the mid 90s. I never steeled myself to listen to his effort, but the sleeve had a shot of him with dark hair and a designer goatee, looking remarkably like George Michael did at around the same time.

  10. 85
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2010 #

    Yeah, Craig was the winner: He got the payoff, the future career and one of Mel and Kim, whereas Bros got to keep all the debt.

  11. 86

    […] goed, tot zover de update, de discussie over wat er nou juist niet klopte aan de band gaat hier verder. Feit blijft wel, dat dit hun grootste hit was. Het haalde de nummer 4 in 1988 en deed over zijn […]

  12. 87
    delannoy on 29 Dec 2010 #

    , je pense que bros a sonné la fin , suivre duran duran , ha ha, wet wet wet, la c etait encore bien , la suite avec les new kid , moyen niveau marketing, la suite take that , nul!! bros a cependant reussi quelques chanson pas mal, des live aussi, la voix de Goss pouvait etre prenante parfois sur certain titres méconnu, manquait un bon producteur, plu mur!a noté, le chanteur Matt actuellement sonne bon avec gossy, ecouté firefly, along for the ride, tt simplement excellent!! plus rien a voir avec bros!

  13. 88
    DJBobHoskins on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Another one where the version that hit #1 was the 7″ remix, but largely unavailable. I always thought it was probably the best example of 80s ‘fuck you’ spite. But there we are.

  14. 89
    adelaide medeiros on 8 Apr 2014 #

    1. All. The. Young. Girls. Like. You. And. Women. 3 hundred. Of. Them. Dont. Be. Surprise. Men. We.all. like. Glenn. Medeiros.he.got. to. Pick.l.got.to.close.to.you.l.was.found.by.you.

  15. 90
    sbahnhof on 6 Aug 2015 #

    The chorus of “When Will I Be Famous” did some fairly heavy lifting from “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood imo. Not that that’s going to change anyone’s artistic opinion of Bros :)

    It’s funny how some songs live on in unusual places. Like the 9-second cover of WWIBF by Die Ärzte – right in the middle of a live punk album (from 1988). Very much of its time!

  16. 91
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Sorry but I actually think Bros were great with a great sound and especially this chart topper and ‘When Will I Be Famous?’!
    They were briefly the biggest British pop band Worldwide also during this time which is often overlooked.
    This track did well across Africa at the time also.

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