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Jan 14

BOYZONE – “Words”

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#748, 19th October 1996

boyzone words Boyzone began life as an advert for an “Irish Take That”, and their first number one is a Bee Gees song, like Take That’s last. Those are the facts – but by this point the relationship feels more coincidental than planned. Boyzone are breaking away from the existing boyband model, moving toward something new – something less creative but far more commercially powerful.

Looking at Boyzone, you see the initial conception poking through – five hunks, one or two perhaps a bit grittier, one younger-looking and cheekier, and one a blond who writes the songs (or helps, at any rate). But Take That became more ambitious, varied, and self-serious as they went on. Boyzone got narrower. By “Words”, they’ve been having hits for two years. We’re already past their most charming single – a bushy-tailed cover of “Love Me For A Reason” – and we’re also past the catastrophically funkless “Coming Home Now”, their last attempt to do anything remotely R&B, except in the name of comedy.

Goofy is out, funky is out – where does that leave the lads? They’ve been developing what you might call the Irish Model of boybands. We have twenty Number Ones to explore the Irish Model (and contrast it with British boybands, who develop rather differently), so I’ll eke my thoughts on it out a bit – but by “Words” it’s close to fully formed.

There are two main issues with “Words”. It’s badly over-arranged – not cheap-sounding like the Robson and Jerome tracks, just slathered with gloopy strings and windy flourishes. David Whitfield would have approved. The second complaint – and this is more typical of Irish Model tracks – is that any gap that does remain gets blanketed with harmonies. Some Boyzone tracks are solo spotlights – like Ronan Keating’s hammy “Father And Son” turn – but a lot of them take this very direct approach to group singing.

It tends to smooth out any expression or nuance in a lyric, turning it into a comforting whitewash of melody. In the Boyzone version of “Words” every phrase has exactly the same imploring, exhausting weight. It’s particularly damaging, since the point of this song is to contrast empty words – “glory… story….” with the pain of disbelief and the disarming sincerity of the singer once he admits that’s all they are. Not exactly subtle, and by no means the Bee Gees’ finest record, but from them it’s at least a performance with a little thought behind it. Boyzone leech the song of character and intelligence, and they’re just getting started.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    FT comments regular who wishes to remain anonymous on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Dreary dreck, makea one realise how not-that-bad-really TT were.

    Also number one when I was raped.

    Nothing to like at all.

    One.

  2. 52
    Kat but logged out innit on 17 Jan 2014 #

    I didn’t go by Kat when Boyzone were at their peak, so I had ~5 years to brace myself for terrible Father And Son jokes (prior to 1996 barely anyone my age actually knew any Cat Stevens songs apart from Morning Has Broken and then only then because it was song bloody number 1 in Come & Praise).

  3. 53
    wichitalineman on 17 Jan 2014 #

    Re 52: I’d never heard the original of Father & Son when Boyzone covered it, but remember contemporaries snorting about having one voice (rather than Cat’s measured, then squawky, voices) rendered the song entirely meaningless. With hindsight this may have been intentional, rather than the crass mistake of an ignorant producer and an acquiescent singer – smoothing out and subtracting already seem to be the themes of this thread.

  4. 54
    Tom on 17 Jan 2014 #

    The one time an Irish Model boyband DO add a voice it’s on a song that you’d generally say absolutely can’t work as anything but a solo.. but that’s for another day.

  5. 55
    wichitalineman on 17 Jan 2014 #

    You tease!

    Words, by the way, was premiered in a 1967 film called The Mini Mob (in which William Rushton plays chancellor of the exchequer) and sung by Georgie Fame. That version never came out; presumably Robert Stigwood decided to save it for a Barry Gibb-pushing, girl-fan-grabbing Bee Gees 45.

    I’m pleased people have so much to say about the Irish Model and are restraining themselves from saying TOO much.

  6. 56
    Rory on 17 Jan 2014 #

    That Late Late Show clip linked by Izzy @25 is hilarious, and tells you all you need to know about Boyzone. Or at least tells me all I need to know.

    The guy in the red-sleeved shirt dancing at the back around the 6:20-6:40 mark: Fred Astaire, eat your heart out.

  7. 57
    Chelovek na lune on 17 Jan 2014 #

    If only they’d done a cover of “My Lovely Horse”…

  8. 58
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Jan 2014 #

    “where do you go to, my lovely horse”

  9. 59
    ace inhibitor on 17 Jan 2014 #

    ah, but which version?

  10. 60
    Mark G on 17 Jan 2014 #

    #53, the first time I heard the original was part of a joke on Paul Nicholas’ “Just Good Friends”

  11. 61
    DanH on 17 Jan 2014 #

    I have heard a Boyzone song at a few department stores here in America, but the bunny must rest.

  12. 62
    anto on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #60 Yes, well remembered. I never understood what Penny saw in him myself.

  13. 63
    Ed on 20 Jan 2014 #

    @47 – I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to make a connection between the Irish boyband model and the economic model that was taking shape at around the same time. I visited Dublin a few times in the 90s, and each time I went back there I was struck by how much the city had changed since the previous time: the new restaurants and apartment buildings, the crowds in the streets, the BMW dealerships, the traffic, the foreign accents in bars and shops.

    The Irish boybands and the booming “Celtic Tiger” economy followed similar arcs: from their little-noticed beginnings in the early 90s they rose to spectacular – if not universally welcomed – success, and then disappeared, leaving a record of remarkable commercial achievement and a fair amount of bad feeling behind them.

    I could argue that they were driven by similar forces, too. In particular, there was Ireland’s great competitive advantage: a high-quality English speaking workforce that was less well-known to international companies – and significantly less well-paid – than its counterparts in the UK or the US. In pop or IT, the economic logic may have been pretty similar. I am speculating here about how much Boyzone were paid; I don’t know anything about their contracts, although I did see that Ronan Keating’s net worth was estimated at $25m in 2012, when Gary Barlow’s was $80m. What does seem clear, though, is that it was a huge help for Louis Walsh to be able to tap a fresh pool of as-yet relatively under-exploited talent when putting Boyzone together. By contrast, the male contingent of UK-sourced bands in this period show all the signs of increasingly desperate barrel-scraping.

    The Irish boybands also reflect the way that Ireland’s entrepreneurs flourished in the 1990s. Walsh’s CV looks pretty empty between Johnny Logan’s 1980 Eurovision triumph and the creation of Boyzone 13 years later. But when he sae the opportunity created by Take That, he seized it

    Meanwhile, this was the period of real progress in the peace process in Northern Ireland, including the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 and the IRA ceasefire of the following year. And financial markets were indicating a mounting confidence that Ireland would, as planned, be one of the founder members of the euro in 1999. Those two changes helped transform international companies’ perceptions of Ireland as a location for investment, and also more broadly helped create an image of the Republic as a hip and happening kind of place: a modern country that was looking forward rather than back. My memory of England in the 90s is that there was a rising tide of pro-Irish sentiment that would have made the country receptive to any act from Ireland that could leap the requisite – if not terribly demanding – hurdles in terms of looks, performance and songwriting.

    None of which necessarily means that Louis Walsh was a senior officer in G2, of course. Or that Bertie Ahern sat down one day and said: “Right, now let’s invent Westlife…” But the forces of historical materialism are ineluctable, even in the market for sentimental ballads.

  14. 64
    Mark M on 13 Apr 2014 #

    Flipped over to 6 Music some time past 4am, and they were playing Boyzone’s (actually not-that-bad, as mentioned by Tom) version of Love Me For A Reason. Thought, ‘That’s an unexpectedly broad-minded DJ’, but of course it turned about to be a documentary on Irish music presumably recycled from Radio 2.

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