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Mar 16

BLUE – “Too Close”

Popular74 comments • 3,074 views

#907, 8th September 2001

blue close The differences between Blue’s “Too Close” and Next’s “Too Close” don’t seem profound – four years, a few production gewgaws, a mild shift in context between male US R&B group and UK boyband – so why does the original make me smile and the cover make me wince? Might it just be that I don’t like Blue? Simon Cowell, who managed Five, had his fingers all over a pre-incarnation of Blue. But every boyband is pitched a little differently, however similar the origin stories. If Five were a cartoon attempt at the Spice Boys, Blue were All Saints’ younger brothers. A little cooler than the average boyband; a lot more knowing. They owed something to East 17 – the first British boyband to drop the niceties and sing about fucking – but they were a hell of a lot smoother and less awkwardly intriguing than Tony Mortimer’s mob.

In short, Blue had pretensions to sophistication which let them stand out. For a single or so, they fitted the bill – “All Rise”, their courtroom-conceit debut, was a good thrust at moody R&B pop. But their US takeover plans were strangled in the crib, thanks to Lee Ryan’s concern that a mourning nation might forget the lessons of “Earth Song”*. Their sophistication died on the vine. The Blue we meet on Popular are mostly just another boyband, albeit a smugger one than usual.

“Too Close” captures both sides of them. It’s theft with pedigree – “Too Close” was a 1998 summer jam in the USA, a modest hit here, and a single that walked the thin like between goofy and sexy with aplomb. Each of Next’s two lead singers confess their uncontrollable dancefloor excitement in a way that slides from apology to flirtation without a blink. It’s endearing at worst, and it helps that the track’s production gives them space to act, ad lib, and deliver fine R&B performances. There’s a scratchy little guitar line near the start that roots the song, linking old R&B to new – “Too Close” is a New Jack take on the ribald end of soul.

Blue – or producer Ray Ruffin – make several changes, none of which help the single. Most obviously, the track switches from a showcase for solo voices to a group effort, four singers stepping on each other’s lines, with the unison chorus brought higher in the mix. You see this a lot in the boyband era – tracks losing focus when adapted for multiple voices. “Too Close” isn’t nearly as egregious as “Against All Odds” was, but the shift to boyband mode muddles it. The production is more crowded, too – stray burps of vocoder at the beginning, synth washes smothering the verses, the arranger’s equivalent of a good spray of Lynx before Blue head out on the pull.

And that’s the problem, in the end. Blue aren’t strong enough to carry the song, but even if they were better, the shift in context to become a British boyband hit subtly reweights the song, and makes it somehow grimmer. No longer does “Too Close” call to mind steamy encounters in American nightclubs; instead it makes you think of unwanted stiffies at the school disco.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    lonepilgrim on 8 Mar 2016 #

    I usually enjoy Desmond Carrington on Radio 2. His themed programmes allow him to pick and choose from in and outside of the familiar playlists and timeframes that prove so deathly

  2. 52
    Mark M on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re50 etc: All things being affected by context, I think I’ve come to think more kindly of 6 Music because the designers at work have Absolute 90s on, and the subs desk used to have 6 Music, and given that choice… Also, I think it would be easy to bash 6 Music simultaneously for playing and not playing the obvious stuff (and in the case of Curtis Mayfield, when ‘the obvious stuff’ is far more than one song, playing one of them is hardly a crime. Whereas, for instance, at this stage in history, Teenage Kicks and Another Girl Another Planet, say, should be avoided by the thoughtful DJ).

    Re42: Yes, Sounds Of The 60s is extraordinary and exemplary in the way it takes in pretty anything released in the English-speaking world during that decade (with probably the occasional bit of French stuff as well) .

  3. 53
    punctum on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Most of that Laverne playlist is playlist crap and Mr Blue Sky, which gets played 2000 times an hour on Radio 2? Why should licence payers subsidise two radio stations playing the same music?

  4. 54
    Adam Puke on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re: 50: A scarily large number of people want to hear James in 2016. They were a key band for many early 40somethings (easily as popular as the Roses or Mondays despite being written out of official BBC4 musical/social history) and I’ve met plenty who’ve largely stuck by them and speak of them in hallowed terms. Their forthcoming tour consists of Brixton Academy/Colston Hall size venues with the Glasgow date at the massive Hydro- usually host to the Princes, Mariahs and Rods of this world.

    Still baffles me completely.

  5. 55
    punctum on 8 Mar 2016 #

    I don’t know I need to hear any of these people in 2016.

  6. 56
    flahr on 8 Mar 2016 #

    In an ideal world of course there would only be one radio station and it would play “Too Close” by Blue on loop permanently. I share the general disgust on this thread that we don’t live in this ideal world.

    Interesting Blue fact which I don’t think anyone has mentioned: all four of the band have since gone bankrupt. I say ‘interesting’.

  7. 57
    Adam Puke on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Bankrupt? That’d explain the need to subject themselves to ITV2’s faintly disturbing Truman Show-esque “Blue Go Mad In Ibiza” a couple of years back.

  8. 58
    Phil on 9 Mar 2016 #

    What baffles me about James isn’t that they inspired crawl-over-broken-glass, give-your-baby-their-surnames-as-middle-names levels of devotion – when they were good, they were very good. What baffles me is that people stuck with them beyond 1990 (1993 if I’m really generous).

    Re #48, I think Peel was a more complex figure than we realised at the time. Certainly he represented a kind of connoisseurship – he’d been around forever, he’d got into punk early on, he’d played dub reggae alongside the Fall, he’d spotted Teenage Kicks, and so on. But it wasn’t a case of connoisseurship being the opposite of just randomly hearing everything – in the public mind Peel could do what he did because he randomly heard everything (all those demo tapes). In reality there was expertise and discrimination there, but he kept it well hidden. I guess it’s the public face of Peel that 6 Music are trying to reproduce, rather than getting in people with his levels of knowledge and taste. Or, for that matter, with his breadth of interest – heard any June Tabor on 6 Music recently? How about Tony Capstick?

  9. 59
    Rory on 9 Mar 2016 #

    @50, @54, re who’d want to hear James in 2016: Erm, me? At least, I’ve got their forthcoming album in my Amazon wishlist. I discovered them properly (apart from hearing a lot of “Sit Down” during my year in England in 1991-92) with 1999’s Millionaires, which along with Pleased to Meet You is still my favourite of their albums. No coincidence that they were both Eno productions. Pleased to Meet You is the first album I associate with moving to the UK in mid-2001.

    I’m under no illusion that they’re terribly important in pop terms in 2016, but they’re at least as significant as the Manics for me: i.e., not quite a focus for fanatical devotion, but with a rich back catalogue that repays revisiting.

  10. 60
    Kinitawowi on 9 Mar 2016 #

    @50, 54, 58, 59 et al; yep, I’m still in full James mode too (Girl At The End Of The World is on pre-order). They’re never going to be as big as they were pre the 2001-07 hiatus of course (or pre-Black Thursday, or pre-whichever other flag day), but then that’s pretty much always been their story – hovering near the edges of a theme, a scene, a time without ever quite latching in to it.

    I still maintain a petulant yet visceral loathing of Chesney Hawkes.

  11. 61
    Pink champale on 9 Mar 2016 #

    I’m with Phil on this one, I still love Stutter and One Man Clapping, and was massively into them at the time of their 89/90 breakthrough (though in retrospect Gold Mother was the start of the decline and I have a memory of Mr Lineman writing a where did it all go wrong review of their 1990 tour that I was indignant about then, but was probably spot on in fact).
    But by the time of the next album I’d lost all interest and I find it baffling that they actually had all their success in the 90s and even on into the 00s. Presumably most fans don’t even know or care about their 80s – viewing it like Bowie’s 60s, with Sit Down the Space Oddity exception.

  12. 62
    Phil on 9 Mar 2016 #

    If Sit Down is Space Oddity, Johnny Yen must be the Laughing Gnome – and presumably the Factory singles were recorded by Tim Booth and the Lower Third!

    Weirdly, I think James were at their best when Tim didn’t quite know what he was singing about. When Reagan bombed Libya in 1986 James did an impromptu free gig in Manchester city centre, at which they played the slow version of Fire So Close for (I think) the first time. I remember thinking “gosh, it’s not a wild James thrash any more – it’s serious and political and meaningful and serious!”.

    It was all downhill from there, really.

  13. 63
    punctum on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #58: 6Music’s for people who liked Peel on Home Truths rather than on Radio 1.

    June Tabor gets played quite regularly on Marc Riley and Gideon Coe’s shows.

    Pick Of The Pops and Forgotten ’80s like to pretend that Tony Capstick never existed.

  14. 64
    glue_factory on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #63, isn’t the problem for Tony Capstick on Forgotten 80s that Capstick Comes Home could fall foul of the “no novelty records” rule? Obviously that’s a pretty arbitrary decision, but one I can imagine a lot of people agreeing with.

  15. 65
    punctum on 10 Mar 2016 #

    Not to be confused with the “no charity records” rule, the “no football records” rule, the “no TV themes” rule, the “no left wing politics” rule or the “no fun ever” rule. No wonder I stopped listening to it.

  16. 66
    glue_factory on 10 Mar 2016 #

    Shame – you and Lena pick some good Didn’t We Almost Have It Alls.

  17. 67
    Phil on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #63 – did not know that about June Tabor. But on Tony Capstick, I was thinking of the earlier, *un*-funny Capstick, who did four sessions for Peel in the early 1970s. I guess his career as a folkie was a victim of his later success – like Billy Connolly or to a lesser extent Jasper Carrott – and his later success was a victim of him not being as funny as he thought he was. (“Capstick comes home” is brilliant, but most of his material was nowhere near that standard.) Which is a shame, because he was a really good folksinger.

  18. 68
    lonepilgrim on 25 Mar 2016 #

    my artist friend Trevor Pitt now has a weekly show called ‘Sleeve Notes’ on Brum Radio which is part of his socially engaged art practice and which aims to play “an eclectic mix of alternative, art rock, avant garde and queer pop with special guests who will talk art/music/life”
    some tracks are more familiar than others but I find it a lot more interesting than most mainstream radio. You can listen to the latest show here: https://www.mixcloud.com/BrumRadio/sleeve-note-sessions-with-trevor-pitt-24032016/

  19. 69
    enitharmon on 1 Apr 2016 #

    Just thought I’d mention in passing that, as I was on a bus passing the Kings Theatre in Glasgow in the late afternoon the other day, I noticed a bevy of youngish women, probably of an age to have been fans of boy bands around the turn of the century, surrounding a tall youngish man, sporting that most preposterous of titfers the backwards-facing baseball cap, outside the stage door. He was signing autographs and generally joshing with his admirers. Further enquiries established that this was Duncan James, formerly of the boy-band Blue, currently starring in a stage musical version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Kings. Glasgow is presumably a bit of a step-up from Prestatyn.

    On the subject of reversed baseball caps, there was a time in the 1990s when I affected a fedora: to my mind the most stylish headgear ever devised for either (any?) sex. As I was walking down Park Street in Bristol a posse of young lads decided to take the piss. I thought this wonderfully ironic given that they were all wearing the aforesaid backwards-facing caps.

  20. 70
    Adam Puke on 1 Apr 2016 #

    I agree on the fedora- such a pity its (I once thought) timeless stylishness has been tarnished in recent years via adoption by the more conservative/misogynist Ayn Rand-devouring elements of millennial blokedom. Couldn’t they have picked shite headgear instead?

  21. 71
    Kinitawowi on 2 Apr 2016 #

    #62 et al; so, fanbase mobilisation was nearly enough to get James to the top of the albums tree for the first time since their ’98 Best Of (they were top in the midweeks), but they were pipped at the last and had to settle for matching the number 2 slot of ’99’s Millionaires, a spot they hadn’t got close to since (Hey Ma reached number 10 in ’08). Back down to number 19 this week though.

  22. 72
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Apr 2016 #

    Re 65: I’m slowly but surely trying to work on a Forgotten 90s radio show with a friend. Don’t worry, it will be less Lighthouse Family and Embrace and more Language of Violence and Pulstar (plus Let A Boy Cry and Be My Lover, but hey, I ooze Eurodance more than Ian Levine oozes Northern Soul (just that I don’t rip off the labels of my vinyls so nobody knows who they’re by ;) )

  23. 73
    Erithian on 5 Apr 2016 #

    Not a frequent listener to 6 Music, and when I do catch it it’s usually Radcliffe and Maconie (whose humour I’ll always enjoy although I know it grates on many here) or Cerys of a Sunday lunchtime (more eclectic music than most on the station, and I’ve been warmly disposed to her ever since I was within touching distance of Catatonia’s drumkit for their debut on Later).

    I have a great deal of time for Lauren Laverne, and her show on the morning of Bowie’s death, sharing listeners’ thoughts on what was personal to them about Bowie, was superb radio. The woman who emailed in saying “My autistic son is better off living in a world where Bowie existed and embraced ‘different’” – as the parent of a child on the spectrum, I was deeply touched.

    I’m sure I heard this one while it was out, but certainly never paid much attention to the lyrics – a stiffie at the school disco indeed. The most interesting thing about Blue for me was the fact that my hairdresser had been at school with Lee Ryan. True story. The song is meh, but not aimed at me in the first place so I’ll live with that.

  24. 74
    weej on 15 Jan 2017 #

    I’ve been accidentally without a TV and listening to the radio every day for the last 8 months or so, and every time I listen to 6 music I think about the discussion here and where it was on the money and where it was missing the point a bit. To sum up my accidental research, it really does depend when you listen.

    Steve Lamacq / Liz Kershaw – Cannot stand either of these people churning out the same boring old indie rock, will not listen at all. No idea what Liz Kershaw in particular is doing on this station.

    Mary Anne Hobbs / Shaun Keaveny – A bit better than the above, but very much fitting the description of classic canon + new indie music, always end up tuning out (disappointingly for MAH, who was sometimes very good on Radio 1)

    Guy Garvey – Like a better version of Steve Lamacq, but ultimately not *that* much better. Everything he enthuses about ends up being a bit meh

    Lauren Laverne / Radcliffe & Maconie – Fairly reliable, but still mainly canon + new indie. Basically I like them, so it stays on, It’s daytime radio and probably would be silly to expect anything else.

    Huey / Craig Charles – Always a let-down, same old selection of funk & soul records everyone has heard a thousand times before

    Marc Riley – Always a pleasant surprise, lots of good new music, even if it is mainly indie-ish. Clearly invests a lot of time & passion.

    Jarvis Cocker / Various others filling in – bit of a risk, but can be be the best things on.

    Tom Robinson – Let’s assemble music on a theme! But let’s pick the most pedestrian choices possible! Nope.

    Cerys – I was never a fan of Catatonia, so surprised to say this is maybe the best thing on here. Genuinely left-field, genuinely wonderful discoveries throughout

    Freakzone – Should be my favourite as it matches my tastes 95%, guess I’m a bit burnt out on it right now, but still, A-grade radio on the whole.

    Live Hour – Anyone want to hear Oasis at Knebworth? Yes, apparently there are some people who want to hear that. But not me.

    Gideon Coe – This looks ok, but never heard it as it starts at 10pm on weeknights

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