Classicist pop often sacrifices quality for vibe. Shakin’ Stevens might have had the moves down but if “Oh Julie” had fallen back through time to the 50s it would have simply got lost in a flood of better rock’n’roll. The secret shame of the traditionalist is that they’re parasites on the present: they need time to have changed, or they wouldn’t stand out.
But every now and then something turns up which shrugs this problem away. “Would I Lie To You?” is classicist alright – when I first heard it I knew nothing of soul history, nothing of Philly, doo-wop, 60s pop-soul or anything else it might be nodding to, but I recognised it as something reaching backwards. And it didn’t matter: “Would I Lie To You?” would have been a hit in 1974 too.
No secret why: this is an irresistibly sweet record. Charles and Eddie have no edge whatsoever, they come over as total nice guys, and they don’t even have the “secretly a prick” vibe most “nice guys” end up with. It’s dreaminess all the way down: if anyone’s going to end up hurt it’ll be them, but that’s an unimaginable outcome as long as the record’s playing.
So how do they stop it becoming saccharine? I think the key is that the chorus is such a massive sugar hit that on the verses they can relax, play around, enjoy each other’s company – flirt a little, basically. When they’re trading harmonies, finishing each other’s lines, swooping and sighing at one another the “girl” becomes simply a fictional convenience. It’s all platonic, for sure, but it’s no surprise their origin story (carrying the same record on the subway) was like something out of a music nerd rom-com: few other records demonstrate the joy of mutually loving and making music so prettily.