As a pop star, Jason Donovan had two big problems. The first was his singing, which we’ll get to, but the second was that Stock Aitken And Waterman didn’t seem to have much idea what to do with him. Kylie couldn’t sing terribly well either, but she immediately turned out to be a missing piece in the PWL puzzle: a girl who could be ordinary without being boring. It helped that she’d had a few years experience as an actress doing exactly that, too.
Couldn’t Jason do the same? Maybe: PWL had gone down that route a little with Rick Astley, but his appeal was more the Clark Kent demeanour and Superman voice, and Jason had, so to speak, no vocal spandex in his closet. That comically awkward bit of guitar at the start of “Too Many Broken Hearts” sounds like a gesture to the idea that Jason, being a boy, might have some connection to Boy Music, but it’s a complete bluff: this is business very much as usual. “Too Many Broken Hearts” seems like SAW taking the path of least resistance, giving Jason some solid material and hoping he doesn’t make too much of a bish of it.
As an insurance policy he’s mixed down in the big earworm chorus and the “backing” vocalists track his vocal line to the note. He gets the verses to himself though, giving us plenty of opportunity to appreciate his trundling delivery, tiny range and the strain every time he has to do anything dynamic. The overall vibe is one of karaoke – not in the usual critical sense of someone doing a crap cover, but the unpleasant sensation you get when you’re singing karaoke and realise you’re only actually comfortable on the choruses: the verses become tightropes of potential embarrassment. In this context the pre-chorus climax – “I’ll be HURT I’ll be HURT” – is a triumph, not just because Jason actually nails it but because there’s a huge sense of relief every time he gets there.
And that’s when I realise SAW’s diabolical cleverness. Because by that point in the song I’m on Jason’s side – I want him to get through this, which is exactly where the record needs to be emotionally: “Too Many Broken Hearts” has to seem like a struggle or else the guy singing it will just come over as an overconfident dick. And so we have a record which ought to be awful but somehow isn’t really. Phew! Now, if only they don’t do something really idiotic and give him a ballad to carry…