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Apr 15

RONAN KEATING – “Life Is A Rollercoaster”

Popular62 comments • 3,553 views

#866, 22nd July 2000

ronancoaster Fishing for critical angles in songwriting credits is a mostly futile endeavour. You soon learn the sad truth: the distribution of talent and memorable style is as skewed among writers as among everyone else – including the stars and hopefuls they work for. Consistency – never mind individuality – is a rare gift. More likely the trawl through Discogs and Wikipedia reveals the half-forgotten boyband hit as the peak of some toiler’s career. But every so often a partnership between star and writer works, and sometimes in surprising ways. This is the only number one Gregg Alexander – ex New Radicals – wrote for Ronan, but he was heavily involved with every one of the singer’s early solo LPs. And listening to “Life Is A Rollercoaster” it’s easy to hear why. Alexander solved a real problem for Keating: how to make the Irish boyband style work for upbeat songs.

The Boyzone, Westlife and Keating style has up to now been a placid thing – given, at least on paper, to great agonies of the soul, but not blessed with much pep. Standard boyband approaches to uptempo numbers at this point in time didn’t suit those groups. The Cheiron ballad style worked fine, but Backstreet-style scando-pop was too pneumatic, and sounded too young for the wider audience Ronan is after. The other option – pop with a dash of hip-hop, a la Five – seemed far too radical for the Louis Walsh stable (on this occasion, his instincts were surely right).

Gregg Alexander offered a different route. “You Get What You Give” had been a massive hit because its yelping optimism sounded so fresh and unreserved, but its musical roots were a remembrance of the clean, MOR sound of 70s and 80s radio pop. The alt-baiting lyrics – “Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson / You’re all fakes run to your mansions” – underlined Alexander’s reactionary zeal, his desire to present himself as an idealistic new broom ready to spring-clean a cynical, dead-end decade. Marketers would come to brand that kind of earnest enthusiasm as “millennial”, though Alexander himself was well-heeled: his showy contempt for fakery born out of a scrappy career as much as idealism. Having proved his point with a smash, he quit in short order to write for others.

“Life Is A Rollercoaster” – apparently meant for a second New Radicals LP – is a product of that, cut from the same cheerful cloth as “You Get What You Give”. Alexander had no snobbery when it came to picking who to write for, happily bedding down with popular but unfashionable acts – as well as Keating, he wrote hits for Geri Halliwell and Texas. His style is as identifiable on this as Mutt Lange’s was on “Breathless”, and a comfort to the same broad audience: woo-woo backing vocals, a rousing chorus, and a general sense that the world and its challenges can and will be overcome by anyone spirited enough. Despite some strong early hits, Alexander’s star as a professional songwriter fell as the decade continued: for no definite reason, but maybe the world changed enough that his sunshine touch lost its appeal.

Meanwhile “Rollercoaster” is comfortably the best song Ronan’s been involved in, though he lands a little out of his depth. He’s too solid a fellow for the devil-may-care bravado of the record’s most memorable lyric, “Hey Sugar / You almost got us punched in a fight”, he falters and ends up flagging, not vaulting, the line’s slight clumsiness. His performance blunts the record, replacing any bluster with a slight stodginess. Life may well be a rollercoaster, but it’s quite a mild one and you’d certainly feel comfortable letting the kids on.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Andrew Farrell on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Blur = baggy quota, to start with. They released Popscene halfway through the tour – wonder if they took it out to stretch its legs.

  2. 32
    wichitalineman on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Re 29/31: I think it was Blur’s first Coxon-led attempt to reposition themselves as credible and indie (ie scratchy and noisy). A brief moment between baggy and britpop. Popscene flopped and they had a rethink.

    I blame that Brixton Academy show for my lousy hearing.

  3. 33
    Andrew on 8 Apr 2015 #

    The Grid, of ‘Swamp Thing’ fame, had a no.19 hit in 1994 called ‘Rollercoaster’.

  4. 34
    mapman132 on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” has a rollercoaster in it.

  5. 35
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2015 #

    I was hoping to learn a bit more about Gregg Alexander here, because as I mentioned at no.2 the New Radicals seemed to break and burst in a shower of acclaim, with him treated as a significant and influential figure, yet I never really understood why.

    This thread’s left me not-much-the-wiser – I’d assumed there had been some kind of under-the-radar backstory that I’d missed, and You Get What You Give was a kind of late-career crossover reward hit, but I wiki’ed him just now and his entry is surprisingly thin.

    What’s the deal? Was he even known beforehand?

  6. 36
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2015 #

    What I mean is that in my memory You Get What You Give was received as if, say, Steven Malkmus had shaped up and produced a no.1 hit. Which seemed plausible enough, lord knows there were so many american indie underachievers through the 80s and 90s; no reason why there shouldn’t also be tons I hadn’t previously heard of.

    Whereas the reality seems be more as if, say, Bran Van 3000 had been more articulate.

    It could be my memory is wrong, of course. But even his output since wouldn’t seem to qualify him as a major figure.

  7. 37
    Mark M on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Re35/36: No, I think you’re right – the New Radicals were a one-hit wonder that (initially) didn’t seem like a one-hit wonder, although that eventually turned out to be (intentionally or not) their purpose. Kind of a bit like someone who directs a well-received indie film with the hidden motivation of the getting steady gigs directing TV episodes, maybe.

    But, yes, they/he were treated like a big arrival. The name probably helped – it’s tacky, but it didn’t sound as instantly disposable as Babylon Zoo or (indeed) Bran Van 3000. So it was all a cunning sleight of hand, but I think you were far from the only person misdirected.

  8. 38
    thefatgit on 8 Apr 2015 #

    I’d be a LIAR (well, someone had to do it) if I said I didn’t like the song, but Ronan’s never been my cup of tea, so…(5).

    YGWYG would have been a solid 8.

  9. 39
    Ed on 9 Apr 2015 #

    @28, @30, etc: So what was the running order? JAMC topping the bill? Dinosaur Jr opening? Or am I imposing anachronistic contemporary standards?

    I guess the listing today would be – top to bottom – Blur, MBV, JAMC, Dinosaur.

  10. 40
    Mark M on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Re28: ‘Among a vanishingly small demographic’ – see, this is the kind of thing I just can’t tell any more about. What’s vanishing, what’s stubbornly persistent and what’s bigger than it was at the time. In this case, assorted folk who went to the Psychocandy 29th anniversary shows* insisted that there were a fair number of young people there. But that remains in the unproven file.

    *I refused to go because they had a drummer with a full drum kit. THE ROCKIST SWINE (which actually raises the question: are the drums on Psychocandy actually all really Bobby G playing stand-up drums? Or was there an unnamed session drummer? Anyone know?). Although, to be honest, also I didn’t go because when I did see the Mary Chain play, in ’87 and either ’89 or ’90, they were really dull).

  11. 41
    DanusJonus on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Re: The Rollercoaster tour. From memory it was conceived as the UK equivalent of the Lollapalooza festival and was Jim Reid’s idea. From various interviews I’ve read down the years I think most of the bands got as trashed as possible and competed with each other to see who could be the loudest.

  12. 42
    Izzy on 9 Apr 2015 #

    39: from memory the J&MC closed every show, while the others rotated below them. They were at similar levels of popularity anyway, so any running order would’ve worked.

    40: I like to think they got Murray Dalglish back to keep things solid, while Bobby (unmiked) tapped a triangle or a cowbell.

  13. 43
    Phil on 9 Apr 2015 #

    The official Blur story is that the failure of Popscene made them think a new direction was needed & being miserable in America (with concomitant boozing) made them want to go as British as possible, with the results we all know. At least, that’s the Albarn story – I suspect Graham Coxon was having a whale of a time out there, grunge, booze and all.

    Ah, Bobby G. Cashing in another of this month’s Digression Tokens, there was a time in the late 90s when Bobby & sympathetic journalists were quietly forgetting about the JAMC period, all the better to shave a few years off the great man’s age. Guardian Weekend ran an interview with him in 1997; I remember because a friend and I sent in a rebuttal of a few points (which they printed!). Our conclusion was

    “Bobby Gillespie 30? We think not.”

  14. 44
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I have some session sheets from the Psychocandy sessions that have Bobby and John down on the tracks. Probably John Loder.

  15. 45
    DanusJonus on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Re:43 – Hence why Popscene wasn’t put on Modern Life is Rubbish, it was apparently a reaction to the fact it didn’t sell or chart as well as they believed it should have done. Even when the ‘Singles – Best Of’ came out in the early 2000’s, it was omitted from the CD. Though I believe it is on the American version of Modern Life. Retrospectively it was seen as Blur’s turning point, though the view was that making it hard to get hold of was some sort of punishment for the fans.

    Some of that maybe revisionist history, they weren’t exactly in a position to be stubborn at that point in time. Dave Balfe, on first hearing Modern Life, commented that there weren’t any singles on it, at which point Damon went away and wrote For Tomorrow and Chemical World.

  16. 46
    weej on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Re #45 – IIRC the LP presented to Balfe was significantly different to what eventually came out – I think only Oily Water and Miss America survived the cut – and some of the new songs contained veiled references to him (Pressure On Julian being the obvious one)

  17. 47
    Phil on 9 Apr 2015 #

    #44 – John Moore according to Wikipedia (“when Bobby Gillespie was unavailable” – never heard it called that before…).

  18. 48
    James BC on 9 Apr 2015 #

    The low point is the “all night long!” ad lib. Ronan makes a doomed attempt to inject some joyful spontaneity (least convincing since McCartney) and only succeeds in rendering the previous line nonsensical.

  19. 49
    Mark M on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Re44/47: Neither of those Johns, as far as I can tell, was a proper drummer. And they also used a drum machine in the period afterwards, so there may be one on Psychocandy (It’s So Hard, for instance?). All of which backs the insistence I would have made when I was 16 that they weren’t actually a rock band AT THAT POINT. (A very contestable claim, obviously).

  20. 50
    Tom on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Popscene is rubbish and its failure was understandable and deserved. Is my charitable Blur opinion of the day.

  21. 51
    Tommy Mack on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I read a thing that said JAMC were past their prime by the Rollercoaster tour and consensus among the fans was that they were overshadowed by the support acts.

    Goldblade’s Keith Curtis was tour manager for the recent Psychocandy shows and apparently recreated their mid-eighties backline in obsessive detail for the shows.

  22. 52

    Think the order that day was:
    1. blur (don’t remember at all)
    2. dinosaur jr (do remember, not much interested tbh)
    3. MBV (there to see: colossal wall of noise)
    4. J&MC (unremarkable as i recall, but i was never a huge st- er i mean bun — also we might already have left by then since MBV had finished playing so why stay?)

  23. 53
    Tommy Mack on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I can’t imagine how anyone could follow MBV! Something very intimate and open-hearted maybe, by way of contrast, certainly not Automatic-era JAMC. If I’d have been them, I’d have let someone else take the hit but I guess MBV had to have their turn at the main support slot.

    I’ve a soft spot for Dinosaur Jr despite them being against all my personal music snob code rules. I think maybe it’s the way J Mascis sounds so sad all the time.

  24. 54
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2015 #

    #47 well, maybe but seemed too early for John Moore. I’m sure he would have mentioned it on his “Hello/Goodbye” feature in Mojo, recently (or was that Douglas Hart? Some article anyway)

  25. 55
    Steve Williams on 10 Apr 2015 #

    #35 I think the appeal of the New Radicals was that it was, as Bruno Brookes once memorably referred to Level 42, “that quality pop that we were all looking for”. I think it was considered quite refreshing among the music industry that Alexander was prepared to aim for the mainstream and that he was doing “grown-up” pop records, kind of like an American Ian Broudie I suppose.

    Not that anyone knew what Alexander looked like, mind, he was more famous for his hat. When You Get What You Give was a hit the New Radicals were booked to appear on T4 but there was some kind of problem with work permits and the crew mimed to it instead. But they did manage to get hold of the hat, so nobody noticed.

  26. 56
    Rory on 10 Apr 2015 #

    I’d never heard YGWYG before, but it sounds to me like World Party.

    Can’t bring back to mind my one listen to “Life is a Rollercoaster” without it being overwritten by “Life is a Highway”.

  27. 57
    Lammy Li125 on 10 Apr 2015 #

    My very first comment after a long time lurking! My memories of the Rollercoaster tour in Birmingham are really strong. Not because three of my favourite bands of the period (MBV, Blur, Honey’s Dead-era JAMC) were playing but because almost everyone in the place went absolutely nuts for the hairy Americans who (to my 18-year old mind) were only there to pad out the roster. The same crowd also stuck their fingers into their ears, mugging and wincing, when the majestic MBV took the stage. I just couldn’t understand it. I still don’t. Maybe it was a Brummie thing. Thanks for the opportunity to finally express my confusion. Therapy session over.

  28. 58
    DanH on 11 Apr 2015 #

    I wish I was more familiar with this song before reading the comments. to see if I could tell if it was a Gregg Alexander creation on my own.

    I had similar reactions to Santana/Michelle Branch’s “The Game Of Love” the first 1,000 times I heard it*. The main pre-chorus hook ‘so please tell me whyyyyyyy’ reminded me so much of ‘flyyyyyyyyy hiiiiiigh’ from YGWYG, so when I found out Alexander had his hand in that one, it was an internal ‘I KNEW IT’ moment for me.

    This one is a bit more enjoyable than a Ronan Keating song should be, but still only about a 5. I loved the hell out of YGWYG at the time, but it’s a quintessential “love the music, throw up in my mouth at the lyrics’ track. Maybe it was best when I was, er, ‘age 14.’

    * I might have said it before, but from my years in retail and listening to the store music, I would have thought ‘Game of Love’ was the bigger hit than ‘Smooth.’ Maybe it was just timing.

  29. 59
    mrdiscopop on 11 Apr 2015 #

    I put this on a mixtape for my future wife. She hated Boyzone but had a thing for “adult” pop like Hootie and Semisonic – so I assumed it would go down well. At the time, I was right.

    A couple of years ago, though, she dug out all those old mix tapes and started playing them on a car journey. This particular effort was going down well (“definitely one of your best”) until Ronan’s undead drone came out of the speakers.

    “This is just awful,” she said. “What on earth made you put in on?”

    The fact it took 10 years before I was (rightly) humiliated explains a lot about the success of our relationship.

  30. 60
    Duro on 20 May 2015 #

    Miracle week- I got with my future wife, and a Ronan song that wasn’t utter shite got to number one. 5/10, becoming a 10/10 for sentimental reasons.

    Any chance of adding a ‘mini-jump’ to 2000 for those who binge on this site on not-very-good phones?

  31. 61
    ciaran on 10 Jun 2015 #

    The New Radicals were a favourite of mine back then and YGWYG was blaring everywhere for quite a while after the Spring of 99(One of the last of its kind before the pre-mp3 revolution of the same year). I’m quite surprised it has become such a critical fave given that it was played maybe once too often and even more so given how of the moment it sounded in comparison to something more timeless like Windowlicker. I enjoy it myself in small doses nowadays and it would be an 8 or a 9 on a good day. I liked ‘Someday We Know’ almost as much but a poignant listen in the Autumn of 1999 given that they had disbanded around the same time.

    Linking up with the much mimicked and much derided Dublin lad sounded like a bit of a disaster on paper but I believe it succeeds and then some. More convincing and enjoyable than ‘Breathless’.Ronan is given a leg up and it’s something like a youngster shouting from the rooftops about how everything’s gonna be alright. Glorious by Andreas Johnson might be a good comparison here-Also bandmate Stephen Gately’s forgotten ‘A new Beginning’ just before this.

    I must admit that I would have been happier for the New Radicals to be still going about their business but I don’t object to Ronan as much as our master and can’t begrudge him this.7

  32. 62
    Izzy on 11 Jun 2015 #

    Glorious is an interesting shout. It makes me wonder whether it and You Only Get What You Give were part of a parallel universe sequence of string-laden, good vibes, alt-anthems, which never quite made it to arenas that the related-but-distinct Coldplay will be occupying shortly.

    Yes by McAlmont & Butler may be the prototype.

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