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Mar 16

BLUE – “Too Close”

Popular75 comments • 4,604 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. 31
    JoeWiz on 4 Mar 2016 #

    I agree that Amstell’s Buzzcocks was its absolute peak, it’s blokey Mojo reading smugness of the Lamarr years always put me off massively. It helped that Amstell was in the chair during a period where pop was throwing up some of the decades more interesting stars, it’s tough to excited by a bloke from Apollo 440.

  2. 32
    weej on 5 Mar 2016 #

    I think the problem with 6music, as with many radio stations, is that there are some good individual shows, but too many space-filling presenters and producers who are happy just to go with the playlist and the alternative canon. I get that they want to appeal to a demographic which includes me, but their playlist is basically comfort food, and that just isn’t what I want from the radio, I want to hear something new and exciting from time to time, and I can’t be alone in this, surely.

  3. 33
    Tommy Mack on 5 Mar 2016 #

    Problem with 6music to my ears is that about half the records sound like they’re written specifically to get played on 6Music. I’m just about young enough to enjoy the aged-indie kid stuff as a voyage of discovery but I’ve no desire to listen through hours of wilfully ahedonic indie-folk bashed out in the hope an OMM journo will lazily describe it as ‘intelligent’. Same thing as others have said, if you think something’s pandering to you it becomes annoying. Or not even pandering to you but to a marketing man’s idea of you as a demographic.

    Don’t think I’ve ever heard Too Close in either incarnation. I was still on my New York adventure which would be coming to an abrupt and shocking end very soon. Christ, when this charted I would have been picking up a few last minute souvenirs in the shadow of the twin towers, blissfully unaware…

  4. 34
    flahr on 5 Mar 2016 #

    My problem with 6music is that although it sometimes plays good music, it sometimes plays bad music. I don’t know why they do that.

  5. 35
    Tommy Mack on 5 Mar 2016 #

    #34 Hahahahahahahahahaha.

  6. 36
    Pink chample on 5 Mar 2016 #

    This inspired me to listen to the 6 music breakfast show today. I mean, there’s clearly something to be said for a radio station that plays Sonic Youth covering Rowche Rumble at 8am and I can’t deny I quite enjoyed it all, but I did wonder just who it was serving (me, I guess) and whether it was a demographic that should be served (since I don’t really listen, probably not). And while I did appreciate that it wasn’t just old indie the eclecticism dos seem a bit token – Rowche Rumble was followed by a reggae song, which is great. Except that it was off Legend. And their funk selection was Jungle Boogie. It’s no doubt unfair to judge based on half an hour, but I think they could probably have followed through a bit more.

  7. 37
    Phil on 5 Mar 2016 #

    The Next song was stupid and grindingly(!) limited to its single bass riff, but it didn’t aspire to be anything else. Bonus points for a video featuring some startlingly sexual dance moves and a fairly chaste sequence shot in a nightclub toilet cubicle, complete with toilet (seat up).

    This cover version is stuck between pointless fidelity to the original (is the chorus even sung by Blue?) and trying to add something to it but failing. And the video consists mainly of the various Bluesters grabbing their own crotches, a move I’ve never understood, let alone appreciated. Worthless tat – 2.

  8. 38
    Tommy Mack on 6 Mar 2016 #

    #36 and the rest: I find nearly every song that piques my interest on 6music is either a ‘token’ track that you wouldn’t expect them to play or turns out to be an old session track etc. Most of the new stuff they play seems like it’s getting on because it ticked the right boxes rather than because it’s truly of outstanding quality (notwithstanding the undisputed high watermark of music radio when Steve Lamacq played our demo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r2nbh )

  9. 39
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2016 #

    I’ve always assumed 6 Music to be wall to wall Elbow – in spirit if not in reality.
    IIRC when John Peel was interviewed for the ‘invisible jukebox’ feature in The Wire magazine, he was asked whether he thought the records he played ‘stood the test of time’ to which he replied of course not, that wasn’t the point. Since his death his tastes have become set in stone. Unlike Flair at 34 my problem is that they don’t play enough ‘bad’ music.

  10. 40
    weej on 6 Mar 2016 #

    The thing I liked about listening to Peel was that he’d throw in some speedcore or thrash metal from time to time and make no apology for it whatsoever, though sure it was making some people turn off. The whole concept of catering to target audiences is flawed, no escaping it.

  11. 41
    Adam Puke on 6 Mar 2016 #

    #38 Maybe cynical of me, but presenting an eclectic past alongside a generic present seems to have been a favoured BBC strategy for anything targeted towards the (!) middle aged listener for a while now.

    Reminds me of when TOTP2 first hit our screens- an eclectic selection of goodies from the 60s-80s then the token ‘current’ track at the end was invariably new country/Americana. Like you’ve had your fun but this is what your demographic ‘should’ be listening to now.

  12. 42
    wichitalineman on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Re 41: against the odds, Brian Matthew’s Sounds Of The 60s plays things like Wild Thing or Everlasting Love while also playing several records I’ve never heard before every single week. I realise this is eclectic past and familiar past mixed up, rather than blending it with the present, but the whole decade can seemed played out x20 so that’s still quite a feat.

    Re 36: that’s exactly how it strikes me. Occasionally people have told me I should listen to Craig Charles’s show, but when I do it sounds like a Dale Winton playlist – Feel The Need In Me, Rock Your Baby, as deep as that. It isn’t hard to find a good varied selection of obscure old soul and funk.

    Re Peel: I think he’d be depressed beyond belief that his perceived taste has been reduced to Teenage Kicks, the Fall and the Wedding Present. eg I remember taping this off his show in 1985, but what are the chances of 6Music playing it?

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

  13. 43
    Tommy Mack on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #38: to be fair to TOTP2 and 6Music, with old stuff, they’re probably allowed a free choice whereas new stuff is presumably influenced if not dictated by what pluggers are bringing them that week.

    1xtra has more better music, certainly more good new music but a lot of the presenters are really irritating (most 6Music DJs are only quite irritating) Also if you listen to 1xtra long enough you hit an interminable session of RnB slow jamz which you will be amazed to learn aren’t really my cup of tea.

    Cheshire, where I grew up and my folks still live, has The Cat local radio, notable for two things:

    1. Staffed entirely by volunteers, meaning that nearly all the DJs are middle-aged dads who listened to ILR a few times and thought ‘I could do that’. Sample banter: “Did you see the Natwich-Holmes Chapel match at the weekend” “Aye, it were quite good”

    2. Bizarre, joyously eclectic playlist. One show, i heard them play Betty Boo, The Pistols (Problems, not even one of the hits), Chaka Khan, Radiohead and David Bowie back to back.

    Re: Peel, yeah, he was one of the first DJs playing Reggae, Hip Hop and Drum&Bass on mainstream radio, not just a slightly more leftfield Lamacq, I imagine he’d have little time for much of 6Music. To be honest I disliked about 90% of what he played (to be fair, the late 90s when I was listening was what he would have called a fallow period) but I never got the impression he had any sort of snobbery about the records he played. I think what erks me most about much indie radio/journalism is the presentation of the conservative as avant-garde or at least leftfield.

  14. 44
    Mark G on 7 Mar 2016 #

    I used to apply the “Silicone Chip” test to those “alternate” radio stations/shows..

    The idea being, what is the chance that whoever it is, would play “Silicone Chip” by Basement 5. I’m not saying it’s the best record ever, but it deserves to be played at some point to interested audients. I would say, for a while Xfm did pass that test: Not because they did, but because they might. (Since those days, according to Viv’s book it seems that the B5 had something to do with The Slits getting dropped from Island, so do I care about them anymore? Jury’s out..).

    I guess the “Jungle Boogie” is the clincher, it’s like how “Teenage Kicks” will get plenty airing, but you’ll never hear “Where were you?” by The Mekons, which is easily as good.

  15. 45
    James BC on 7 Mar 2016 #

    At 33 I might be a little on the young side to be squarely in 6 Music’s target audience, but I’m probably the kind of person they want to appeal to. (I like the Fall.) For all its flaws, though, I find Radio 1 much better for introducing me to new music. No doubt there’s lots of good stuff on 6 that R1 would never play, but the same applies in reverse as well. The difference is that the music on R1 has much wider cultural relevance – I’m fine with not knowing about The National or Spoon or whoever, but imagine not knowing about Uptown Funk!

  16. 46
    punctum on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #45: Agreed, and I’d listen to it a lot more if they didn’t keep shouting at their listeners as though they were all four years old and at nursery school with goldfish levels of memory.

    The thing that scuppers 6Music is this ball and chain of “heritage.” If they concentrated on what was happening now, they’d be far more listenable. But when continually buried under a decomposing heap of nearly 50-year-old Led Zeppelin chestnuts – I mean, who tunes in to listen to this stuff, who gives a toss except sad old men who have been collecting vinyl for the last thirty years? But they doubtless think that’s their target audience.

    Even when they do play “new” music it’s like, huh? Dismal new offerings from nineties Britpop hasbeens and/or – that most dreaded of radio phrases – “friends of the station.” Or any old crap that automatically gets on the airwaves because it’s on Bella Fucking Union. That’s exactly the problem with radio right now; every presenter wants to be your fucking friend. And genuine new music, whether it’s bentcousin or the new Kendrick, doesn’t get an airing because, look what this morning’s earworm is, it’s the fucking O’Jays.

    Whereas I enjoy listening to R1 presenters like Annie Mac and Daniel P Carter because they’re living in the present tense and playing me music that I don’t know too much about – yet – and so I can learn as well as enjoy. But it gets to the point when, when you hear “Work” by the Blue Orchids for the sixth time that week, you think, weren’t things better when only Peel was playing this stuff, when you had to go out and FIND this music?

    (tags: when radio was radio, kids today, Geoff Boycott)

  17. 47
    thefatgit on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Bobby Friction sitting in for Jarvis on Sunday Service yesterday. Big tick! Not that I listen to 6Music very often, but I get quite excited hearing stuff that’s hardly ever played (Flaming Lips “Lucy In The Sky…”, Arabic version of “White Rabbit” from American Hustle, some dub and bhangra thrown in among others). Not just your Elbow and The National every other song, which was my impression of 6Music for a very long time.

  18. 48
    Cumbrian on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #46: One of the things about Boycott though is that his is an authority well earned. He’s seen and played in countless games of cricket, of all formats, around the world. He’s probably seen everything that can reasonably be expected to be seen in Test and ODI cricket and is racking up the knowledge on T20 as the game develops. When Boycott talks about cricket, it pays to listen, because he knows what he is talking about. And if he says, this was better in my day*, he’s probably right because he’s seen it and thought about it.

    How this fits in with what I am looking for from radio is probably at odds with what the current fashion is. I get the sense that there is an assumption that, because you can get almost any type of music you want at the drop of a hat, discovery is the job of the listener to an extent. Meanwhile, I look at the bewildering range of choice that is on offer on the internet and wouldn’t half appreciate learned voices, who have listened widely, offer recommendations. I can work out whether I trust them myself, but this sort of filter is useful. I’m not looking for the radio to be my mate with the exception of the type of mate that offers me the benefit of their knowledge, rather than always being on for several beers and kebab. Just like Boycott helps me think more cogently about the game of cricket.

    This is why, for me, the FT yearly run down of music, though I never get involved in voting for it, is interesting and helpful in pushing me into areas I wouldn’t otherwise explore.

    *He actually does not do this often nowadays at all. In point of fact, regularly on TMS, he’s one of the guys giggling when a Test match turns into a shootout with weird shots being played all over. If someone gives his wicket away, he’ll let him have it. If someone exhibits long term technical failings, he’ll let him have it. But he does usually recognise that there’s a time and place for everything and if everyone played like him, England would lose more often than not. He knows the game has moved on. Faced with new information, he has changed his opinion.

  19. 49
    Mark M on 7 Mar 2016 #

    In the interest of, well, introducing evidence to the debate, I’ve picked a day at random (3 March). Here are the final 20 tracks that Lauren Laverne played that morning:

    Morrissey: Suedehead
    New Order: Singularity
    M83: Do It, Try It
    Groove Armada: I See You Baby
    Poliça: Wedding

    Lush: Out of Control
    Cody Chestnutt: That’s Still Mama
    Steve Mason: Planet Sizes
    Barry Louis Polisar: All I Want Is You
    Joni Mitchell: Little Green

    Tom Waits: You Can Never Hold Back Spring
    Donna Summer: Spring Affair
    Biz Markie: Spring Again
    Electric Light Orchestra: Mr Blue Sky
    Curtis Mayfield: Freddie’s Dead

    Tricky: Beijing To Berlin
    NZCA Lines: Chemical Is Obvious
    The “5” Royales: Don’t Give More Than You Can
    James: Nothing But Love
    Bird Dog: The Ocean & The Sea

    Some obvious records there, and some that I think you’d have a tough time arguing are overplayed. I do suspect, however, that if you did the same process with Steve Lamacq’s show, it would be a narrower selection.

  20. 50
    wichitalineman on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re 49: Not as narrow a selection as Steve Lamacq is the slenderest of get-outs, of course! Freddie’s Dead fits Punctum’s O’Jays crack upthread, but I’ve never even heard of that 5 Royales track, so it’s not all “Top 5 hit from 1972” token black music. James, on the other hand… who the fuck wants to hear James in 2016?

    I’m depressed that the Blue Orchids’ Work might be considered overplayed, while simultaneously thrilled that younger generations (must be two since it came out) will know it.

    Maybe the oddest and most depressing thing for me about 6Music is that it has such a narrow timeframe of “oldies” (because that’s what they are, whether hits, or flops, or freak zone material or whatever). Radio 2 has an impressive self awareness – something for everyone, no fear of seeming uncool, and I think I’m just as likely to hear something great and unknown to me on Claire Teal’s show as I am on Lauren Laverne’s. The difference being that when I hear it, Radio 2 won’t bang on about how clever they are for playing it.

  21. 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

  22. 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) .

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 55
    punctum on 8 Mar 2016 #

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

  26. 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’.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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