Stock Aitken and Waterman’s skills were based on simplicity: get a feeling, nail it. Their songs are unapologetically direct, with very little ‘side’ or ambiguity. The acts they worked with were similarly well-defined – the square but adorable one (Rick), the sassy ones (Mel & Kim), the confident everygirls (Sonia, Reynolds Girls), and then of course there was Kylie, sunny and optimistic whatever disappointment love threw at her. So “Especially For You” is Kylie’s happy ending, based very much on her Neighbours’ character’s happy ending.
But the question is, is pop a good vehicle for happy endings? Musicals are, and as a moment in a narrative “Especially For You” does its job. But can a happy ending work as a standalone single? Not in the hands of SAW, whose instinct to directness makes “Especially For You” mercilessly straightforward. No doubts now: all the tension, all the drama here happens offstage and in the past. What has not killed them has made them stronger – hurrah! But non-soap-watchers haven’t seen it try and kill them, so their victory here is unearned, presented as inert fact.
Even then the single would work if there was some sense of relief, or chemistry, or much of anything between the leads. Kylie brings it – she’s not a great singer but she’s likeable and honest and that’s all the record needs. There was a Twitter discussion recently about whether Kylie had “charisma” or “charm” or something else entirely. Certainly at this stage she wasn’t charismatic, but a charismatic singer would have made “Especially For You” unbearable by exposing how flat it is. With Kylie it has a shot at sounding innocent and wholehearted: she isn’t always the best thing about her records, but she almost redeems this one.
Unfortunately she’s paired with one of pop’s all-time plodders, the ever-hapless Jason, whose performance here is so wet that it makes his devoted Kylie seem like a simpleton (he’s comfortably outsung by Kermit The Frog, here). Of course they were an item in real life, so the single was even more of a banker: perhaps too much of one. All the songwriters and performers have to do is steer this record safely home, and so that’s all they do. Nothing on “Especially For You” – except maybe the odd Beach Boys keening right at the start – draws attention to itself, no risks are taken. “Boring” is the most useless of critical adjectives but there’s no getting past it: this record is boring, and to some degree that’s deliberate.