Aug 10

JASON DONOVAN – “Too Many Broken Hearts”

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#624, 11th March 1989

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…



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  1. 1
    GuiltyFeat on 11 Aug 2010 #

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. It’s a SAW throwaway, but even a SAW throwaway has enough to recommend it if you’re not of a cynical bent.

    I guess they got lazy after this preferring the quick fix of a vocoder cover. Still a nice song that heralded the soullessness of the 90s and all the anonymous rubbish that was to follow.

  2. 2
    punctum on 11 Aug 2010 #

    The opening guitar clarion call, like a mislaid Haircut 100 riff, opens up an ebullient, sunny performance from Donovan; the video, which depicted him briskly strumming (or pretending to strum) a guitar atop a high Antipodean mountain, set him up as our new Frank Ifield, a hearty, no-nonsense chap still eagerly facing the New World. The song demonstrates, for all SAW’s talk of nowness, a surprisingly traditional gait; with only minor alterations in its arrangement, “Too Many Broken Hearts” could have been a hit for the Fortunes in 1965, with its deadly catchy “You give me one good reason to leave me/I’ll give you ten good reasons to stay” tag. Shielded by layers of protective double-tracking, speed slowing and backing vocalists, Donovan gives a reasonably lusty reading…of a song which is supposed to be about desperately holding on, in more than one sense.

    The trouble is that when Donovan exclaims “I’ll be hurt, I’ll be hurt, if you walk away” he appears to regard this “hurt” as being on a par with bumping into an errant doorknob, and given that the song then ventures into “Band Of Gold” territory – “Last night I tried to reach you/But somehow it wasn’t enough” and “So I said, can’t you wait a little longer?/I’ll give you all that a lover should give” – he sounds more than ever like a confused teenager who hasn’t quite worked out which end to hold. The chorus also lets the song down somewhat with its hackneyed “I won’t give up the fight for you” (even if that means ingesting large quantities of Viagra) meme. The whole is like a gaudily coloured Commonwealth jigsaw puzzle whose pieces never quite seem to fit.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 11 Aug 2010 #

    I found myself more positive disposed towards ‘Especially for you’ than I’d anticipated but can’t find much to like about this. JD’s voice is an atonal drone and the production sets my teeth on edge.

  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 11 Aug 2010 #

    An absolutely huge hit in the Top Infants playground. I’d just turned seven and it totally seemed that this music was meant for me – Jason was on Going Live! pretty much every week and I’m fairly sure he was still in Neighbours at that point. But I still liked Kylie better. And er, the Fine Young Cannibals.

  5. 5
    Tom on 11 Aug 2010 #

    I like how Punctum and I come to roughly similar conclusions while enjoying completely opposite bits of the song! Good call on the Band of Gold thing too, a touch of grim realism absent from most boy-oriented hits of the time. :)

  6. 6
    pink champale on 11 Aug 2010 #

    jason seems a lovely bloke, but he really did have a rotten, rotten voice. the other big thing about him is that he was clearly a bit of an indie boy at heart and was palpably discomforted by the kind of pop career he ended up with (hence the guitar strumming videos and interviews where he banged on about the cure etc) and ultimately quite damaged by it. for all his pop success you sense he’d have been far happier being that other neighbours bloke with his terrible ‘mona’ song.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 11 Aug 2010 #

    This went straight in at #1 IIRC. That is all.

  8. 8
    punctum on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Not actually the case; went in at #9, climbed to the top the following week. At this point the last non-charity single to go straight in at number one was “Two Tribes” but the deluge isn’t very far away.

  9. 9
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Nice to see some eucalypt-green in the video. And, um, it’s nice and short. Er…

    Oh god, no, nooooo. I’d rather even listen to “Belfast Child” again. 2.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Thanks for the correction, Marcello. I now realise I have literally nothing worthwhile to say about TMBH. I’ll bow out until the next one.

  11. 11
    lex on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Coincidence – Mike Stock has emerged in the papers today chatting crypto-racist/snobbish shit about R&B, as is par for the course for the UK pop establishment. “99% of the charts is r&b and 99% of that is soft pornography,” apparently. Even if that were true it’d still be preferable to SAW. He’s a moron and needs a punch in the face.

    (I have never heard a Jason Donovan single, remarkably! It’s funny how some mocked-at-the-time plastic-fantastic pop stars (or even just individual songs) get critically rehabilitated – Kylie, I guess – and others just, well, don’t.)

  12. 12
    JLucas on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Even as a terminal SAW apologist, there’s no denying that this was the point when their songs got ridiculously formulaic and samey.

    With that in mind I find it interesting to listen to this back to back with Sonia’s UK #1 from a few months later. Both very much SAW by numbers, but the difference between a genuinely gifted and likeable vocalist and poor dirgey Jason is really quite telling. I hope dear old Sonia gets a higher mark than this did, if only for sheer enthusiasm. (And her lovely hats)

    Anyway, my favourite Jason record was ‘When You Come Back To Me’ if only because I could swear his voice isn’t even remotely present on the chorus.

  13. 13
    Alan not logged in on 11 Aug 2010 #

    When we did the JasonD biog there was a ‘competition’ to come up with the title – and I pitched “Ten Good Reasons to Stay”. (It was ‘Between The Lines’ cos of TEH DRUCQKS, which they had pretty much decided on before the SO CALLED competition. fume.)

  14. 14
    Tom on 11 Aug 2010 #

    The album was the biggest seller of 1989 according to Wiki. Remarkable!

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2010 #

    iirc ‘When You Come Back To Me’ was, bafflingly, lifted pretty much wholesale for One True Voice’s ‘Key To My Life’ – Waterman’s attempt to combat Girls Aloud, suggesting just how out of touch he’d become (arguably compounded further by Eurovision result earlier this year).

  16. 16
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    @11 Kylie rehabilitated herself, surely, with the deliberate distancing in her post-SAW output? If she’d instead done a West End Joseph revival, I doubt she’d be seen the same way today.

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    Tom on 11 Aug 2010 #

    #16 I so wish that wasn’t a spoiler, but…

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    pink champale on 11 Aug 2010 #

    #11 actually being any good in the first place generally has a fair bit to do with critical rehabilitation. hence kylie but not jason.

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    swanstep on 11 Aug 2010 #

    This record is pitiful. SAW or their C-team must have spent all of 5 minutes pasting it together. Ugh:

  20. 20
    cowboy donovan on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Too ingrained to stop loving it now. I remember getting loads of cognitive dissonance abt this:

    – why is he playing the guitar? There’s not guitar here!
    – why is he being a cowboy in the video? (I saw half of the video once at age 8 and it totally coded WILD WEST until I saw it again years later)
    – he seems very happy about “I’ve been hurt! I’ve been hurt!” – he even gets to follow up the pain by going into an excellent chorus!

    Ooh I just checked the sleeve and it DOES look like he is wearing a cowboy hat! I promise, I wasn’t obsessed with the Wild West at that point or anything – if I was mistaking JD for a cowboy that kinda proves it…

  21. 21

    A key element in Kylie’s rehab = she was Nick Cave’s gf :(

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Also lads mags got to talk about her bum.

  23. 23
    Chris Gilmour on 11 Aug 2010 #

    ‘You Spin Me Round’ shimmered and cackled, ‘Respectable’ fizzed and chugged, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ shuffled and floated, ‘Lucky’ bubbled and percolated. Even ‘Especially For You’ lilted from side to side a little, like an awkward school disco slow dance (which is kind of what it was for, eh)
    This, SAWs least impressive number one to date, (Let it Be doesn’t count, so there) just clumps and staggers, with no discernable groove. Punctums reference to the sixties feel of the song is ironic in that the song SAW wrote for Cliff later in the year felt a lot more contemporary.

    Remix watch: The 12” starts off lumpenly trying to emulate Inner City’s ‘Good Life’ before tumbling into the seven inch version; the remixes for the US release try to take it further into house territory but sound cluttered and uncomfortable. Most perplexing is the ‘Party Hardy’ mix which drops in about a minute of Pat & Micks ‘Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet’ for no apparent reason. When I say drops, it sounds like it’s been edited with a toothbrush.

    Meanwhile, further down the ten was one of SAW’s finest moments, ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’. I don’t doubt that Donna Summer was more formidable a character than they’d become used to. Much of their finest work (Bananarama, Dead or Alive, ‘Rhythm Of Love’-era Kylie) seems to have come about as a result of them facing a little friction and having to up their game. Can’t see any amount of conflict turning Jason into a half-decent pop star, though.

  24. 24
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2010 #

    #20 ‘- why is he playing the guitar? There’s not guitar here!’

    ha ha, also it wasn’t plugged in (on the mountain top).

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    pink champale on 11 Aug 2010 #

    #21 i’m not so sure about that. the nick cave period lead to a kind of half life where she was seen as a good thing by critics in theory with little reference to her actual recorded output (which in turn became not very successful attempts to chase critical respect – manic street preachers colabs!) but commercially was right in the doldrums. it was only really when she went back to making good dance pop records again that the stars aligned for her. but i hear hopping….

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    Alan not logged in on 11 Aug 2010 #

    “not very successful attempts to chase critical respect”

    is this not the Confide in Me, Indie Kylie, remixes by Massive Attack (or something) era

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    pink champale on 11 Aug 2010 #

    i was thinking more of the period after ‘confide in me’, which i think was pretty successful all round (though it turns out wasn’t a number one as i’d always assumed)

  28. 28

    haha “seen as a good thing by critics in theory with little reference to actual recorded output” also = n.cave’s entire post-birthdayparty career!

    at least this would be my (not entirely fair) counterjab here; in the era i think you mean, “in theory” was trumping a LOT of actual-sound-of-actual-recorded-output all round the place…

  29. 29
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    @17 Oh no, sorry. I hadn’t realized he’d… y’know. Will shut up now on matters JD, and go off to study the next page of the UK Number 1s list more closely.

    @25 Her Manics collab was fab! Also, not commercially in the doldrums back home; Kylie Minogue and Impossible Princess both did very well in Australia (the latter a platinum album there).

    @27 Number one in Australia!

  30. 30
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    @20 Filmed in the north-east Victorian town of Beechworth, sez Wikipedia. Ned Kelly country, so your wild-west interpretation wasn’t that far off.

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