16
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. 1
    Speedwell54 on 16 Jan 2014 #

    After ‘Setting Sun’, there was I expecting another 9. Maybe not.

    It’s not a good version and adds nothing. It loses something by filling the holes the Bee Gees left. This song is most notable to me as the one people invariably choose when attempting an impression of Ronan.
    2 – fine.

    Bit of year for extreme scoring number ones so far, and it’s not over me thinks.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2014 #

    whereas Take That seemed to appeal to an audience of girls their own age, Boyzone always looked and sounded like they were aiming for mums and aunties. Clearly they did have a wider (younger) fanbase but the choice of song plus the ham fisted arrangement seem deeply conservative

  3. 3
    Izzy on 16 Jan 2014 #

    ‘every gap that remains gets blanketed’ is good. The effect is not unlike compression, but at this distance I find the maple syrup approach much kinder to the ear. At least I don’t actively fight against it, as I do with the cognitive dissonance of things sounding wrong.

    I’m not looking forward to this long run of Irish no.1s. I kind of feel your review has said it all already. For all the talk about song choice nowadays, I never felt the songs mattered a hoot, and not just because I wasn’t paying attention. The other lot talk about a notorious disaster they had, where they went off-piste and only scored a no.3 – Metal Machine Music it ain’t.

  4. 4
    Auntie Beryl on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Funny how the memory plays tricks. I’d have bet that Boyzone scored their first number one earlier than two years and six singles into their chart career. Album one didn’t produce a chart topper, a state of affairs that might get a boyband dropped these days.

    The Bee Gees did pretty well from publishing in the mid-to-late-90s, didn’t they? Leaving for now a bunny waiting for us in a couple of Popular years time which I imagine may polarise opinion a little, there’s How Deep Is Your Love, Words, N-Trance’s Stayin’ Alive, FNM doing I Started A Joke, More Than A Woman (911), You Should Be Dancing (via Blockster)…

    [Whilst researching this post I discovered that the Levellers covered New York Mining Disaster 1941 in the late 90s. Blimey.]

    This single? It exists but does little more. It’s as if the Bachelors had worked up a contemporary cover of Words whilst the Bee Gees were still in the chart with it. 3.

    Is this the first number one for Louis Walsh’s management, by the way? Don’t think I’ve missed anything.

  5. 5
    Weej on 16 Jan 2014 #

    ‘Words’ is like the first White Walker attack. The Seven Kingdoms still stands, but now everyone knows that a long, cold winter is coming…

  6. 6
    Cumbrian on 16 Jan 2014 #

    There’s not just the Irish model of boybands to consider. There’s the Irish model of g*irlbands too!

    I think the Bee Gees record is alright actually. A bit overwrought and they surely did better but it’s decent enough. The raw material is there and peeks out from behind this version, so it’s not as hateful to my ears as some of the upcoming bunnies and I definitely feel like I need to spare the rod here, in favour of taking it out later on. 3, I guess.

  7. 7
    Lazarus on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #4 it was Johnny Logan, apparently! (see “What’s Another Year” thread)

  8. 8
    Rory on 16 Jan 2014 #

    The closest Boyzone got to the top of the Australian singles chart was a number 4 for “Father and Son” and a bunny, so I’m blissfully ignorant of the specifics of what lies ahead. But this is the standard gloop I remember clogging up certain radio stations at the time (stations I rarely listened to). Like Cumbrian, though, I can imagine worse, so an unenthusiastic 3 from me.

  9. 9
    James BC on 16 Jan 2014 #

    It’s notable that Boyzone only got to number 1 after Take That had split up. To me at the time, at a boys’ school and not knowing many Take That fans who would admit to it, it seemed like they simply inherited Takes That’s fans and success after being a bit of a joke up to that point. Right place, right time.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #9 I remember thinking that as well and I’ve noted before that Take That’s last three number ones all had a Boyzone record in the top five simultaneously.

    When we were discussing How Deep Is Your Love, which Tom gave a 4 to, I noted that it was arguably better than both the 1996′s subsequent Gary Barlow hit and its second chart topping Bee Gees cover and wondered if Tom’s scores would concur. Answer, they did as the combined scores of Forever Love and Words don’t surpass How Deep Is Your Love.

    To be fair to Take That, their Bee Gees cover was a farewell single by a band whose focal member was already thinking of his solo career. By contrast Boyzone were launching an album of new material and it still feels Take That went to more effort.

    I agree with a lot of what Tom says about Boyzone’s subsequent context (`less creative but more commercially powerful`). And yet and yet … I am itching to get a few number ones along.

  11. 11
    anto on 16 Jan 2014 #

    That phrase ‘Irish model’ is going to take a bit of getting used to. Had I known at the time how much we were going to have to get used to Boyzone and then Boyzone 2: The Quest For Glory I wouldn’t have mildly approved of the soporific ‘Words’ for it’s elegant old-fashioned tune, then I found out it was a Bee Gees song and the full horror dawned.

  12. 12
    leveret on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Stools is the word which springs to mind with this one, in more ways than one. There are going to be a whole load of stools featuring in Popular over the next few years.

    I would go so far as to say that the Gary Barlow record is actually slightly preferrable to this since it just wafts vaguely prettily around in the background, whereas this one (being a better class of song) unfortunately commands a degree of your attention and lodges itself in your head for more than 10 seconds after its finished.

  13. 13
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #11 The standard phrasing would be Boyzone II: Electric Boogaloo but it seems inappropriate in this case.

    #9/10: Boyband transference is an obvious theory but from what I understand of boyband fandom it’s a lot less common than it seems. It would be a bit like switching football club allegiance if a winning team gets relegated – it does happen, but in general the level of emotional investment is not so easily transferred. Same with any music really – when the Pixies split up in 1992 I didn’t rush out and suddenly declare myself an undying Sugar fan.

    That said it obviously doesn’t need to happen *much* to push a regular Top 5 act into a regular Number One, as in this case. But also consider that Robbie quit TT back in late 1995, and the band announced their split at the start of 1996 – assuming boyband liking correlates with age (like metal or indie does) there have been at least 6 months’ worth of potential new fans for whom BZ would be the obvious first choice option.

    TLDR: Boyzone obviously benefited from the Take That split, but a mass movement of TT fans isn’t required for that to happen.

  14. 14
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    (The transfer from Boyzone to They Who Must Not Be Named is a bit of an exception, in that it seems to have been managed and marketed as such – it would be interesting to know if there were many BZ fans who hated the other lot. There’s another fan-transfer scenario in the early-mid 00s which seems quite managed, too.)

  15. 15
    thefatgit on 16 Jan 2014 #

    We lurch from one extreme to another. Boyzone’s “Words” then. Gawd ‘elp us! This is aural cholesterol. And as Tom suggests, the Irish Model will be examined from every conceivable angle over the… Next. Few. Popular. Years (gulp!).

  16. 16
    Andrew Farrell on 16 Jan 2014 #

    On behalf of the Emerald Isle, we are so so sorry, if not as sorry as we’re going to be.

  17. 17
    Andrew Farrell on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #4 I’m curious as to why this state of affairs didn’t get them dropped back then – Louis Walsh worried that if he gave up he’d be a failure? What were the public channels through which you could gauge fan devotion pre-social media* (were Fan Clubs still a thing?) and were they hitting the mark there? Maybe it’s just that they’d had every single hit #1 in Ireland and he reckoned that the UK would crumble eventually – the first album will be troubling Marcello in due course too.

    * not that social media buzz is any sort of gauge of who’ll buy records, of course.

    Also relevant to #4, another unexpected BeeGees cover particularly if you haven’t kept up with the band in question.

  18. 18
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #17 they were a Top 3 band in the UK from the outset – the only previous single not to get to #2 or #3 was “Coming Home Now” which is SO dreadful even some of the fans must have rebelled.

    Take That’s early singles were a much dodgier commercial proposition – Boyzone (tho they were following the formula) were comparatively fully formed, I doubt dropping them was ever an option.

    A note of comfort (to me anyhow): This is #748, the final (to date) number one from the two groups is #1046 – so that’s 20 in 299 songs i.e. only 1 in every 15 is an Irish Model boyband. They owned a particular niche absolutely, but had little effect beyond that. (“Why weren’t there more of them?” is a subject for a future entry.)

  19. 19
    Auntie Beryl on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #17 “What were the public channels through which you could gauge fan devotion pre-social media”?

    Little postcards in CD singles that you* filled out & sent off to an address in Warwickshire to join a mailing list, I guess. If the list kept growing, that would indicate increasing commercial clout.

    You’d think the lead single from a second Boyzone album would have been heralded by a mailshot to every single member of that list.

    * – I subscribed to the Pulp list whilst at uni, and over time received a series of promo cards for Lip Gloss, Do You Remember The First Time, Sisters EP etc that I *really* wish I’d kept hold of.

  20. 20
    swanstep on 16 Jan 2014 #

    This is one of the tracks I always skip over on my Bee Gees comp.! ‘Words’ is well written in that it captures something fairly specific – sort of a relationship going nowhere/being stuck, and does this by starting in G modulating up rather leadenly through A and B-flat only to arrive back in the chorus on G. The effect is deadening as intended: we don’t, can’t escape G. That is, even though there are a few extra chords the song feels like it’s all on one note. I tend to skip the song precisely because of this accurately rendered monotone/sour feel. As everyone’s noted, Boyzone pad out the arrangement and don’t have the inherent lightness of Barry Gibb’s vocal, hence a very static song becomes thick and bloated too; most unpleasant. I wouldn’t go above 5 for the (clever but unpleasant) original and the cover for me is a:
    2

  21. 21
    Andy M on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I remember thinking at the time that that band name was hilariously terrible; were they deliberately trying to evoke knitting and sponge cake periodical Woman’s Own? And now it’s forever associated with Peter Serafinowicz recruiting a boy band in 15 Storeys High “‘Boys So Cool’… say it fast, it sounds like bicycle.”

    This is one of their more bearable number ones. It’s a bit more up-tempo than some of the plodding horror to come.

  22. 22
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    The fella on the right of the sleeve – Shane or Mikey, by elimination – has a bit of an Aphex death stare going on.

  23. 23
    AMZ1981 on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #18 to be fair Coming Home Now hit number four in an unusually strong sales week; 1(-) How Deep Is Your Love 2(1) Don’t Look Back In Anger 3(2) Robert Miles’ Children which I remember Mark Goodier noting had increased its sales from the previous week despite the fall. Mulling it over now, for a band like Boyzone to clash their release date with their main rivals would be unthinkable a few years later.

    #22 Mikey Graham, the least known member of the group and (ironically) the one who was arguably most passionate about music.

  24. 24
    JLucas on 16 Jan 2014 #

    As a song, I think Words is a lovely tender thing. The problem, as Tom touched on, is that the ‘Irish Boyband model’ makes no distinction between a heartfelt piece of songwriting and a cheesy Barry Manilow ballad. They’re all performed and arranged in exactly the same way.

    Amongst the gloopier efforts, a similarly classy number that suffered the Boyzone effect was Tracy Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You, which they took to #2.

    For an altogether more thoughtful reading of the song, I recommend Shawn Colvin’s version.

    http://youtu.be/6RZQkgsqv5I

  25. 25
    Izzy on 16 Jan 2014 #

    21: the name’s not bad, if they’re going after some Junior Boy’s Own cachet. The other lot I just don’t understand, it doesn’t seem to be referencing anything (used to be Westside iirc, but changed for some reason? But not to anything in particular).

    The blandness troubles me I confess. Not what I associate Ireland with at all, though that may be me – it’s not like there isn’t a long line of Wogans and de Burghs preceding them, to go with the country’s spikier produce.

    Boyzone’s Late Late Show debut though – http://youtu.be/hpVyGaHM6rE – that’s much more promising. If only they hadn’t got all professional so quickly.

    28: Yes! Most unPopular to disrespect Manilow so. I’d go in to bat for a surprising amount of his work, even if I do prefer naughty Barry to nice.

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