16
Jan 14

BOYZONE – “Words”

Popular66 comments • 4,512 views

#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. 31
    23 Daves on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #4 I was going to mention The Bachelors as well. Something I’ve realised through following “Popular” and also reading Bob Stanley’s book is that there always seems to have been forms of gentle, oozing pop treacle in the charts, whether it’s David Whitfield (who Tom mentioned), The Bachelors, Cliff Richard at his worst, or Boyzone. As soon as a gap in the light, water vapour pop market emerges, something seems to come along to fill the niche.

    The problem with talking in this manner is that I leave myself open to accusations of music snobbery, which is exactly what happened when I had a live-in landlady who was a huge Boyzone fan (she knew I liked music and asked me my opinion on them, I didn’t volunteer it of my own free will). The argument that Cowell and Walsh have used for years is that this music touches people, it comforts them, it entertains them, so who are WE to say it’s bad? Aren’t WE the villains in all this? And I have no satisfactory answers to this charge, except to say that it’s usually obvious to most people when you play them the original versions of the tracks Boyzone covered that theirs subtract a lot and add very little. This is no exception. It’s just lazy material. For all that, though, I struggle to get genuinely irritated about them – one of the benefits of their wispy arrangements is that they are incredibly easy to ignore.

  2. 32
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #31 yes, I mean, I don’t like them – NB I don’t listen ahead very far, so this is based on memory largely – but I’m trying to treat them as panto villains not actual villains, and I’m pleased there’s not been much fan-blaming going on too.

    Cowell and Walsh themselves are a different matter – you can make strong arguments that their ultra-rigorous application of formula made pop worse: there’s always been glurge in the charts but the successful acts had previously rung the changes too, or released their grip sooner. With Cowell in particular the crossover of interests – management, his own label, publishing, TV – gives him unprecedented control and influence: the Murdoch of pop. All of which is a story which will play out across the rest of Popular.

  3. 33
    flahr on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I like the chorus, although not particularly when Boyzone sing it (I hear it in my head in a female voice – was there some high-profile country-ish cover of it, too? Then again ‘female voice’ doesn’t exactly exclude The Bee Gees). The piano intro sets off my fight-or-flight response [3]

  4. 34
    thefatgit on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I think the perception of Boyzone being almost bearable, compared to what’s to come, despite the quality of their offerings, especially now, comes down to their “Late Late Show” debut, before there was even a single released. I don’t have the link, but anyone who has seen that clip would probably have a tough job forgetting it.

  5. 35
    Cumbrian on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #29: I don’t know but my point is that Barry Manilow’s stuff probably also comprises heartfelt pieces of songwriting. Boyzone’s problems are not about distinction of songwriting as far as I can tell.

  6. 36
    anto on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #31 But then who are they to call it snobbery? I sometimes suspect a lot of people are increasingly mistaking basic discernment for snobbery.
    Furthermore, I’ve never heard anyone accussed of being a ‘television snob’ for thinking House of Cards is better than Splash with Tom Daley.

  7. 37
    Rory on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #36 So-called TV snobs.

    I’ve seen comments about fans of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) along these lines. “Typical middle-class Radio 4 listener”, etc. If you like a TV show that requires you to read, you must think that all TV that doesn’t is watched by illiterates, you snob. Even if it’s just a (very good) police procedural that happens to have subtitles and nice jumpers.

  8. 38
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    My problem with “basic discernment” is that it doesn’t take into account what a fan wants to get out of a record. It slyly assumes a context, of, roughly, the individual understanding of artistic expression. This is an excellent use for a record – if it wasn’t worth trying I wouldn’t be sitting down and writing about records and I certainly wouldn’t be attaching marks to them (however playfully). I think within that context “Words” is crap on a bunch of levels. But it’s not the only context. “Canvas for romantic fantasy” – for instance – is also a use for a record. “Comforting escapism” might be too.

    So I think the ‘snobbery’ isn’t one of choices between records exactly, but one of an assumed hierarchy of uses.

    It’s totally possible to make the argument that artistic expression is a better use to put a record than comforting escapism, or romantic fantasy, or dancing for that matter, even if I don’t necessarily agree. It seems to me, though, that simply saying “Boyzone are shit and if you like them you’re undiscerning” isn’t making that argument, it’s assuming the argument’s already been made (and won).

  9. 39
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    & one of the reasons I decided to write about No.1 singles – rather than “my favourite records” or “the best etc.” – is that it’s a place where these different uses and contexts for records get to fight and confront each other.

  10. 40
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #33 Rita Coolidge (number 25 in 1978 in UK)

    #25 Wogan was bland on his BBC1 chat show in the eighties. Brilliant on the radio.

  11. 41
    JLucas on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #28, #35 – Certainly didn’t mean to denigrate Barry Manilow. It just strikes that Mandy (which he didn’t actually write, and actually had to be coerced into recording as he wasn’t at all fond of it at first) and their ilk are very much in a genre of very slick, sentimental MOR. There’s nothing wrong with that genre at all, many of my favourite songs come from it. And in many ways its a perfect genre for crowd-pleasing boybands to mine.

    The likes of Words and Baby Can I Hold You are just a bit more stark in their original forms, and I think the fragility is lost when you try to apply the same vocal and production style to them. Not that one genre is more ‘worthy’ than another, at all. It’s just a bit of an awkward fit, to my ears.

    There’s another Boyzone hit to come which is also a cover and probably seen as their signature tune, which I think is a *much* better fit for what they do than something like this, which can’t help but sound neutered and insincere.

  12. 42
    Cumbrian on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Fair enough.

    My most memorable rendition of Mandy culminates in the following exchange:

    Homer: Uh-oh..
    Lisa: Dad, why are you singing?
    Homer’s Brain: Tell a lie, tell a lie!
    Homer: Mmm.. because I have a small role in a broadway musical. It’s not much but it’s a start.
    Homer’s Brain: Bra-vo! *clap clap*

  13. 43
    wichitalineman on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Re 41/42: I was just about to write about M***y and then realised it’s probably emerging from our collective subconscious because of the Curse of the Irish Model. Bunnied!

    Problems with this record:

    1. Replacing Maurice Gibb’s thick, super-compressed piano chords (the intro on the original is my favourite bit of the whole record) with Ferrero Roche prissiness.

    2. Unnecessarily screwing with the structure to squeeze an extra chorus into the first verse. Seriously! It’s like Phil Collins extending Ringo’s drum roll on the Abbey Road medley to make it “better”.

    3. Getting rid of the counter-melodies to Barry’s “da da-da da” middle eight. No French horns for you, Mr Keating.

    Otherwise, it sounds considerably more thorough than I remember it – albeit with Up Where We Belong-borrowed piano flourishes (come back Floyd Cramer!) and militaristic tympani. 3.

  14. 44
    Cumbrian on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I feel like The Irish Model is going to become the new Bunny (i.e. if anyone lands here for the first time, it’s going to take some time to decipher just what the hell we’re on about).

  15. 45
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2014 #

    was The Irish Model from Kraftwerk’s Celtic album?

  16. 46
    bob stanley (@rocking_bob) on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Tom Ewing’s Popular reaches the Irish Model, and the dawn of the Walsh/Cowell era. Good god, it started 18 years ago: http://t.co/dMhi9rIZSN

  17. 47
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Googling “the Irish Model” brings up a very interesting Paul Krugman graph about the impact of economic collapse on the Irish Republic’s growth.

    It brings up some other pictures too mind.

  18. 48
    Patrick Mexico on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Don’t mind the Killing and quite a fan of (the original Swedish) Wallander, but I can’t help thinking many people wouldn’t have given those kinds of programmes a second glance if they were set in, say, Peterborough. Citation needed? Be my guest. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSoPXXJQz2c&t=4m40s

    There also seems a very arrogant and calculated forced “grimness” to Scandinavian noir – it’s the same aspect which makes me avoid Editors and White Lies-type bands like the plague. Then again, someone like Depeche Mode, like that kind of telly, when they’re on form they get the balance between the bleak and the beautiful spot-on and it’s a treat for the senses.

    None of this whatsoever can apply to Words. A completely pointless record which adds nothing to an original which bored me to tears anyway. (Bizarre for a boy band to debut on Popular with something as modest as this – and a cover! Though I would say that as one of those who think the Bee Gees got better as they became more sparkly, garish and high-pitched.) I’m sure these and *other Irish bunnies* are perfectly lovely guys in “real life”, but there’s something vaguely heartbreaking about this whole shebang. 3 at best.

    I have no other anecdotes about this other than:

    1. My sister was a massive, massive Boyzone fan around the age of 9 and autumn 1996 was the first time we had the Internet in our house (AOL, boo!) I think she asked me to print some Ronan posters out on my PC and rather than the “search” button I naively typed “http://www.boyzone.com.” Which led to.. well, a site where the adult male was presented “artistically” and “tastefully”.. nudge nudge wink wink AARGH! To paraphrase Groove Armada, goodbye childhood (hello fucked-up adolescence.)

    2. None of my male peers at school had any time for this. I remember one lad’s charming parody ditty on the school bus – “It’s only gay, and all I am is gay, I bum sheep in the hay.” I sincerely apologise to anyone offended or non-funny-bone-tickled. It was a very different time and place. After all, we were at the age where we thought you could get pregnant by sharing a chocolate bar.

    3. I know it was a shame Boyzone/Bunnies’ ambition started and ended with making music for mums and grannies, but I did, indeed like the way they worked hard – no dignity (you got to back it up, 20 more times.) Oh the hilarity.

  19. 49
    iconoclast on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Starts off prettily enough but soon grows dull, and remains devoid of personality throughout. A depressing portent of things to come: give them cover versions, don’t worry about the hard stuff like actually writing decent and original songs. THREE.

  20. 50
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I do share the general consensus that Boyzone were immeasurably preferable to w.w.w.w.w.w…..what came later.

    But still, this isn’t their best: too smooth, no gaps; music for a coffee ad.

    It does strike me that Boyzone, like the Pet Shop Boys*, almost certainly announced the coming of their imperial phase with a high-charting cover version in the run-up to the Christmas period (the similarities almost certainly end there): Their version of “Father and Son”, the previous Christmas, certainly stood out from anything they had released before – both for the quality of songwriting (thank you Mr Stevens), and also production, singing, arrangement, the meat and veg. I think they’d been a bit of a joke, and rather too wet up until that point. But suddenly they demanded, if not to be taken wholly seriously, then certainly not to be dismissed high-handedly with utmost contempt.

    *he wrote semi-provocatively

    And (err..can’t remember “Coming Home Now” at all. Was still in Ukraine then, don’t think the Ukrainians loved that one like they did “Father and Son”), it was true that for a bit afterwards, they were a little bit more adventurous, a little bit more experimental, a little less complacent, and a little more polished, in the singles they put out , before gradually, and slowly becoming rather more boring again. (Have just seen their other bunnies. How many? And good grief? With one partial exception, hardly the best set of their singles, either. Seems almost all of their better singles were actually those that got to number 2. Aforementioned Cat Stephens cover, “Isn’t It A Wonder” and, a little below those two in stature, “Picture Of You”. Hmmm. Not that any of those were earthshatteringly brilliant, either).

    I’d give it a three. Bland but it passes the time. OK to hear once in a while. Not convinced it’s actually markedly worse than the original, either. Although I kind of wish it were a cover of the FR David number with the same name, instead.

  21. 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.

  22. 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).

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 57
    Chelovek na lune on 17 Jan 2014 #

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

  28. 58
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Jan 2014 #

    “where do you go to, my lovely horse”

  29. 59
    ace inhibitor on 17 Jan 2014 #

    ah, but which version?

  30. 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”

  31. 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.

  32. 62
    anto on 20 Jan 2014 #

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

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 65
    Erithian on 29 Feb 2016 #

    Listening to both this and the original one after the other, I have to admit I’m siding with the Boyzone version overall. Yes, it gets gloopy towards the end, but until that point it’s lushly produced and well performed. As I’ve mentioned before I have something of an aversion to the Bee Gees, but this is an undeniably fine song – it’s just that the vibrato on the Gibb vocal quickly becomes distracting and ruins the effect of the song by the last chorus.

    On the other hand, the da-da-da interlude sounds like a man wistfully musing on life (Barry) or a bunch of people reading Da’s off a bit of paper (the Boyz).

  36. 66
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Finally out of Take That’s shadow however still taking cues from them with this Bee Gees cover.
    Take That’s global stranglehold on the pop charts was gone meaning not only was this their first UK chart topper but a big hit across all Europe which they previously never had.

    This track is also their sole career chart hit in Brazil in 1997 however once again that could be the Bee Gees connection who were a massive band in Brazil.

    It’s a good and dramatic cover of a great song.

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