“Same Old Brand New You” showed that the Max Martin style could be achieved on the cheap – but what happened if you went in the other direction? Plasticky British pop wasn’t the only strain under pressure from the Swedes – America’s pop establishment, typified by ballad queen Diane Warren, also needed to react. “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”, co-written by Warren, is one attempt. It’s an expansive meeting of styles – a sweeping film soundtrack number, produced with thumping, Martin-esque drama. Just in case that wasn’t big enough, the producer is Trevor Horn, obviously no stranger to maximalist visions for pop. Somewhere in this colossal landscape is LeAnn Rimes, a young country-to-pop crossover act who seemed more comfortable at the faith and flag end of her original genre.
Can it possibly hang together? Can Warren’s, Horn’s, Rimes’ and (in spirit) Martin’s contributions align? From its first chord – distorted, almost grungy, but enormous – “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounds overstuffed, like “Oops…I Did It Again” on growth hormones. Martin’s songwriting trick at this point – simple, but immensely successful – was to introduce ideas and bring them gradually together, so that his hits come in with relative understatement and go out with a mighty collision of overlapping hooks. “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” starts big and finds itself with nowhere much larger to go, reliant on ever more pop-eyed yawling from LeAnn Rimes. Luckily the song, especially that confident chorus, is strong enough to just about carry this weight.
But the production doesn’t really work for it. “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” is, in its bones, Tin Pan Alley songwriting, a romantic metaphor with a lyric hung around it. It’s flirtatious, a world and a tradition away from the feverish interiority of Britney’s hits, say. And the metaphor is one of fate – events are beyond the control of Rimes’ intended; it’s the bewitching power of the moonlight – of traditional romance – that’s making the running. But the staging of the song as a display of overwhelming strength is giving the moonlight one hell of a push. Horn’s thunderous production, and Rimes’ hulked-out twang, suggest not so much drawing down the moon as threatening to physically smash it into the Earth. The Martin style runs into its limits. It can excite, but it can also exhaust.