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Apr 15

RONAN KEATING – “Life Is A Rollercoaster”

Popular62 comments • 3,976 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. 1
    flahr on 7 Apr 2015 #

    …maybe the world changed enough that his sunshine touch lost its appeal.

    What if Francis Fukuyama… was a songw oh I did that one

    Pleasantly memorable at fifteen years’ distance – I get a tinge of Singing Assembly from it though it’s surely too technically complex for that (and I am just conflating with “When You Say Nothing At All”, see comments passim), but ‘mild playground hit’ is probably a fair description.

  2. 2
    Izzy on 7 Apr 2015 #

    I never understood the rush to acclaim the New Radicals. Even though all the upbeat things Tom mentions should be manna to me, the music seemed dull.

    But this is pretty good, though it’s certainly not as good as When You Say Nothing At All. (6) feels about right.

  3. 3
    Mark G on 7 Apr 2015 #

    The intro to this is the same as one of the remixes of Big Audio Dynamite’s E=MC² (am away, otherwise I’d have linked a youtube here)

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 7 Apr 2015 #

    I wondered why I responded so positively to the song when I listened to it recently and the revelation that the guy from the New Radicals was involved went a long way to explaining my reaction. What I enjoy about “You Get What You Give” and LIAR is that (to my ears) they draw from the sprung rhythms of Soul/R and B/Gospel which help to give the songs an optimistic bounce. Ronan is the muppet mouthing the words as far as I’m concerned but it’s to the songs credit that I’m not conscious of his vocal mannerisms.
    The increasing interaction of production and songwriting teams working with a variety of artists seems to have become a feature of this decade. There are similarities to the Brill Building era and partnerships like Lieber and Stoller but their presence seems increasingly foregrounded.

  5. 5
    wichitalineman on 7 Apr 2015 #

    It has a Philly soul bounce, and the same powerpop undertow as You Get What You Give, but LIAR is lyrically much more “go with the flow” than “don’t give up”. In other words, I think it suits a mainstream singer of laissez faire politics better than Greg Alexander. Gary Barlow could have sung LIAR and I’d still rate it.

    After this relatively brave career move, Pete Paphides interviewed Keating and suggested that he should consider covering Racey’s similarly breezy Rest Of My Life. Thinking inside the box personified, Keating assumed he was taking the piss, and did his Alan-Shearer-eyes-narrowing face.

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 7 Apr 2015 #

    Better than most ex-boybander songs. Maybe it’s the Gregg Alexander factor shining through (YGWYG would’ve been 9/10 from me, FWIW). Still, it has enough of the watered down ex-boybander vocal sound that I can’t get into it too much, so 5/10 from me.

    On a different note, it’s bugging me greatly that I can’t figure out which US city appears in the video.

  7. 7
    Izzy on 7 Apr 2015 #

    When you can’t figure it out, it’s always Toronto. I’m dizzy just watching it though.

  8. 8
    weej on 7 Apr 2015 #

    I remember hearing this for the first time and immediately knowing it was going to be huge. That sweet soul / 70s mainstream rock/pop sound was surely the only feasible style for Ronan to go with, though christ knows he’d already gotten away with enough mis-steps, so I’m hesitant to claim any great genius in its choice this time round. Having said this his vocals are still only ‘tolerable’ – and this only from having much of their ‘character’ sanded off. Not a good sign for his future career, and LIAR hasn’t endured as much as I expected it to either.

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 7 Apr 2015 #

    #7 Nope, not Toronto. Canada doesn’t use the style of Pedestrian Crossing sign shown in the tunnel. Chicago’s a possibility (lots of tunnels, bilevel streets, and skyscrapers), but I’m not seeing any of the usual Chicago landmarks I’d expect. And again, the street sign style is wrong (“Grand” at 1:20), something only a roadgeek like me would notice…

  10. 10
    Andrew on 7 Apr 2015 #

    Can’t really fault this one, although the song is too big for Ronan; he doesn’t quite fully inhabit it. Rick Nowels, Gregg Alexander’s co-writer, was largely responsible for many of Belinda Carlisle’s biggest and best hits.

    Boyzone’s 2010 single Love Is a Hurricane is another Gregg Alexander effort, this time written with a New Radicals collaborator Danielle Brisebois (pretty good, too).

  11. 11
    Tom on 7 Apr 2015 #

    I just went back and looked at the original NYLPM review for this – done by Fred Solinger, not me – he points out that Gregg Alexander apparently said in his press release breaking up the New Radicals that he was a ‘Mutt Lange looking for his Shania’. So my comparison is more apt than I remembered!

  12. 12
    Tom on 7 Apr 2015 #

    Once you knew what you were listening for, spotting a Gregg Alexander co-write became pretty easy – the most blatant example is Texas’ “Inner Smile” – the “yeah! yeah! yeah!” backing vocal line that runs all the way through it is pretty much what a pre-programmed “Gregg” setting would be like.

  13. 13
    swanstep on 7 Apr 2015 #

    @9, mapman. It’s downtown LA. The skyscrapers are just these, and there are some shots of the (endlessly used in movies) Second St Tunnel which is crossed by Grand Ave and is next to Grand Park. And here’s Grand Ave Lower level.

  14. 14
    mapman132 on 7 Apr 2015 #

    #13 You’re right! Never thought of LA for some reason…

  15. 15
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Apr 2015 #

    “You Get What You Give” was a fabulous summary of what kind-of-indie-but-still-poppy guitar pop could do – “come around and kiss your ass in” indeed. A sure fire 9.

    “Life Is A Rollercoaster”, though, is a lot duller (and frankly, next to “Breathless”, seems duller still). I suspect I am more prepared than most here to make excuses for young Ronan – I think as middle-of-the-road entertainers of no supreme innovative merit go he does what he does pretty damn well. So I would also disagree that this was the best song that he was ever involved with (granted: he did bugger up, on two occasions, in completely different ways, and to varying degrees, what I would rate as the best song he was ever involved with – “Father and Son”) – quite a few of his solo ballads are rather lovely, sensitive, engaging things, including (checks the chart stats) a bunny yet to come. I think Ronan generally works better at a slower pace – when he speeds things up (eg “Lovin’ Each Day”, or, worse, “I Love It When We Do”) there is a kind of slightly manic incoherence that, while brimming with enthusiasm, tends to a somewhat inchoate result.

    That doesn’t really apply here: “Rollercoaster” is a coherent, complete, polished, song; but it’s also brimming with enthuisasm – – which, given the conceit of its title, and title line, perhaps it should be a little more…. To me this is competent mid-paced middle-of-the-roadness middle-everything: pop music by focus group, almost, down to the cheery smile. I find that it engages the emotions very little – perhaps less than it ought, given some of the lyrics. Everything is too tightly under control. In some contexts this gives a composition greater power and force, but here…again, it’s not an insubstantial song, exactly, it’s just….middle-of-the-road. Ronan’s performance is perfectly acceptable, but again there is nothing that makes me excited or rollercoaster-like. All in all a perfectly functional, rather too anodyne, but still tolerable 6.

  16. 16
    Phil on 7 Apr 2015 #

    This is the first one since Don’t Call Me Baby that I’ve recognised instantly; even with The Real Slim Shady I had to check out the video to remind myself if it was that one or that one. This, though, was properly memorable – just not necessarily in a good way. I didn’t exactly hate it at the time – I didn’t even dislike Ronan particularly – but I do now. I’ll give it 3.

  17. 17
    Jonathan on 8 Apr 2015 #

    I’d never really thought of effervescent optimism as being Gregg Alexander’s signature trait, but now that Tom’s pointed it out my mind turns to the best thing he was ever involved in: Sophie Ellis Bextor’s “Mixed Up World.” (SEB adds pluck and polish.) As New Radicals went, YGWYG is still as enjoyable as ever, but I’ve always preferred “Someday We’ll Know,” which I only discovered years after the fact had been cut up into a duet for Mandy Moore and Switchfoot Bloke to sing in A Walk to Remember.

  18. 18
    swanstep on 8 Apr 2015 #

    A good companion-piece to ‘Breathless’ this one. Indeed, staple LIAR’s verses and middle 8 to B’s choruses and you’d probably really have something! Individually, however, each is more pleasant than exciting – solid, worthy #1s for established artists but not the sort of thing that would or could break anyone new. YGWYG (which was a #1 in NZ) still feels like Gregg Alexander’s great work. At the time it sounded like a missing Jimmy Webb sunshine-pop composition for 5th Dimension – really great, and an instant classic. LIAR feels on the verge of a YGWYG change at several points, and hence as though it’s settling for something less than soaring when it doesn’t go there. Interesting snare drum sound (combining a couple of sounds I think) on this record (it’s reminding me of something but I can’t think what). Anyhow, for me, this is another very professional:
    5

  19. 19
    swanstep on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Best ‘Rollercoaster’ songs?
    1. Love Rollercoaster, Ohio Players/RHCP
    2. Rollercoaster, EBTG
    3. My Rollercoaster, Kimya Dawson

    Any others (aside from LIAR)?

  20. 20
    Shiny Dave on 8 Apr 2015 #

    #17 Someday We’ll Know got pointed to me a few years ago and I really liked it for at least a fair while. Also turned out to be very useful in the process of understanding my voice a bit better. (That’s a neat irony, given that I’m about 90% sure one of the songs I did with my first singing teacher was Ronan’s first, awful, bunny!)

    We’ll get a chance to discuss SEB in full – I’m really looking forward to the review of that bunny, especially if its review is as driven by the chart battle it won as the “Country House” one.

    It doesn’t take me to point out that LIAR is somewhere between the quality of peak-era New Radicals and peak-ick Ronan, and I’m torn between a 6 and 7. Probably a 7 as I think it’s a bit better than “Breathless,” which I gave a 6. Given what Ronan did before, that’s a serious triumph for Glenn Alexander and to whomever hired him. It’s not thrilling, despite the title, but it’s superior radio pop-rock whatever else it is, and I suspect it still gets fairly regular airplay on local commercial radio. Probably deserves it, too.

  21. 21
    chelovek na lune on 8 Apr 2015 #

    #19 “The Rollercoaster Song” by the Lilac Time is decent enough….

  22. 22
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2015 #

    It’s less than a Popular year since we had another Celtic Tiger bubblegum act scoring an (8) here with their own Rollercoaster. There’s no need to be resorting to the blooming Lilac Time!

  23. 23
    swanstep on 8 Apr 2015 #

    @22, Izzy. Whoops, Rollercoaster, B*Witched right you are. In my defence, I only gave the track a ‘4’ so never committed it to memory.

    Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void (2009) has the best, most ingenious and shocking rollercoaster scene I’ve come across in movies. May cause heart attacks; highly er recommended.

  24. 24
    Ed on 8 Apr 2015 #

    @19 13th Floor Elevators, natch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsKny8WnktI

    The Spacemen 3 cover is pretty far out, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gfyvKdE6oU

  25. 25
    Ed on 8 Apr 2015 #

    I always think of LIAR as being sung to the tune of the chorus of this one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP2yxRgnR8Q

  26. 26
    Phil on 8 Apr 2015 #

    #25 – aargh! Set an ear-lamprey to catch the earworm, would you?

    I always think of mishearing lyrics as something I did when I was six or seven (around the time I asked my parents why that Christian pop group was called the G-Strings), but I distinctly remember wondering why a minestrone would be served with bombers and cheese, and what the bombers were anyway. And I was a mature and sensible 15 (although I’d never been to an Italian restaurant).

  27. 27
    flahr on 8 Apr 2015 #

    “Rollercoaster” is one of the more memorable tracks on Sleeper’s third album (I initially typed “Sleepr” as if they were some Web 2.0 dealio).

  28. 28
    Tom on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Wasn’t the legendary* My Bloody Valentine/Jesus And Mary Chain/Dinosaur Jr/Blur early 90s tour named Rollercoaster, after a JAMC song I’ve completely forgotten now?

    *among a vanishingly small demographic that happens to include me

  29. 29
    Izzy on 8 Apr 2015 #

    Yes it was! How did Blur manage to get on there?

  30. 30

    ooh i saw the rollercoaster tour at brixton academy — think me and my friend left before blur came on haha (or arrived after they finished)

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