One of the charges you might level at Irish Model boybands is a lack of ambition. Once Louis Walsh and crew found a style that worked, they generally stuck to it – and the evidence is they were right to. But “A Different Beat” is ambitious. It’s Boyzone taking to the pulpit, standing up in front of their new, wider audience and preaching. What they’re preaching is harder to work out.
“A Different Beat” fits into a tradition of windswept, empty pop songs where an act feels licensed by success to ruminate on the state of mankind: “All You Need Is Love”, “Heal The World”, “I Have A Dream”. It rarely makes for a career high, but it can work. There’s certainly no inherent problem with pop as a vehicle for saucer-eyed one-love platitudes – acid house lived off them, and the sentiments of “A Different Beat”, turned into a clumsy rap and set atop a bed of tablas and house piano, would have made a grand Trans-Global Underground song.
But still there’s something absurd about “A Different Beat”. Its problem is that Boyzone are terribly out of their depth: the song where they try to be most universal is the one where they end up seeming most callow. They write a verse about how their travels round the world have opened their eyes about our common humanity, and the only “African” thing anyone can think of is an old Toto lyric.
At least “I’ve seen the rains fall in Africa” makes sense, whether or not it’s true. The rest of the song is stupefying: “Humanity’s lost face / Let’s understand its grace”. Unfair to pick on lyrics? Not when they’re arranged so portentiously, trying to goad you into a sing-song. “Let’s take a stand and look around us now – PEOPLE!” sing Boyzone, rousing their audience for some inexplicable struggle. Down with This Sort Of Thing!
The pity of it is that Boyzone’s arrangers do their best to make this sound enormous – the track is far less smothered than “Words”, and if the snatch of African voice that opens the record is a corny Benetton touch too far, at least everyone is trying to produce something with more imagination and gravitas than the average ballad. But the song at the heart of all that effort is so risible it’s hard to even class “A Different Beat” as a noble failure.