Nov 14

RONAN KEATING – “When You Say Nothing At All”

Popular42 comments • 5,665 views

#831, 7th August 1999

ronan “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Fair enough. I can take a hint.



  1. 1
    weej on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Well, quite.

    I would add, however, that this is a cover of an (apparently well-known) country song. My dad (a musician and a fan of Alison Krauss’s version) played it at my sister’s wedding, and felt he needed to point out that it “Wasn’t a Boyzone song” before he started. Even with this special day in mind, I still find it difficult to shake the memory of The Ronan Lilt though.

  2. 2
    Mark G on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Now now now.. Does it deserve more consideration than that?

    Answers on a postcard…

    Actually, discussion is stymied because bunny, so I shall merely say:

    It’s possibly one of his less tragic ballads. He’s speaking for the inability for a man to communicate with his dearest. And yet, he’s sharp enough to put the responsibility onto her. He’s looking for the signals that he’s doing alright, and she smiles to let him know that it’s OK, he can carry on watching the telly with his beer. She’ll catch him whenever he falls. Not if, when.

    In fact, there’s a female co-vocalist on this, and does she say nothing at all? No. That would be daft. Would it be daft? Song could have had a smile solo.

    It’s a ‘vulnerable man’ song, much like Frankie Vaughna’s “Tower of Strength”, too much to lose if he gets it wrong, but this one ends up in a stultifying comfort zone.

  3. 3
    glue_factory on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Listening to the Alison Krauss’ version, I realise that I don’t mind the actual song; I could imagine it on a mixtape nestling nicely between some James Taylor and Christopher Cross. It’s just Ronan’s delivery and the, err, celtic-pipes maybe, in the middle that slightly set my teeth on edge. Also, it is my imagination or has he moved closer to Westlife territory with this one?


  4. 4
    swanstep on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Yikes, a beautiful song here given an undistinguished, utterly redundant treatment. The worst moments are threefold:
    1. The lyrical change from the graceful, Gershwinesque ‘Old Mr Webster could never define’ to the flavorless ‘Try as they may they [who?] can never define’
    2. The lumpenly chanted backing vox coming in at the climax (I hadn’t minded the backing vox in the second verse – at least it was trying something)
    3. The blasted key-change at 2m 30s. What had previously been a space for a graceful, short solo gets battered into procrustean formula. Horrible.

    The two big versions of the song in the US were Keith Whitley’s, notable for his one helluva voice, and Alison Krauss’s notable both for her sweet voice and superb arrangement and playing from Union Station. The KW version’s a 7 in my books, and AK&Union Station’s is an 8 or a 9. Ronan Keating’s version? Even butchered as per 1)-3), I guess the bones of the song still work for me, so begrudgingly I have to give it a:

  5. 5
    JLucas on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Well the video was quite nice, so there’s that.

    Given that the end of Boyzone didn’t seem particularly acrimonious – and seem to be good friends to this day – you have to wonder what Ronan and his team hoped to achieve by his going solo. We’ve already seen how the Take That solo careers found Gary self-consciously staking his claim as a ‘serious artist’ to terminally dull effect, Robbie going through a rebellious phase (commodified with an overly on-the-nose George Michael cover) before channeling his showman persona through Guy Chambers’ appealingly inclusive songwriting, and Mark Owen going a bit indie.

    If there’s a branding shift in Ronan’s solo career, it’s very subtle. Where Boyzone generally revived well-known songs from sources as diverse as Tracy Chapman, The Bee Gees, The Osmonds and Billy Ocean – applying the same syrupy, unambitious production style and vocal approach no matter who they were covering – Ronan alone became the Cilla Black of American country music.

    The fact that the last Boyzone single was in exactly the same mould as almost all of Ronan’s subsequent solo hits speaks volumes about Louis Walsh’s shrewdly low-risk approach to managing his artists. Ronan, presumably, was just happy to keep picking up the cheques.

    When You Say Nothing At All is a nice song, and Ronan isn’t ambitious enough to ruin it. The worst thing you can say about it is that outside its obvious home as a safe wedding slow-dance, it makes you feel, well, nothing at all.

    At least Geri pissed people off.


  6. 6
    Cumbrian on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Wasn’t this related in some way to the Richard Curtis film Notting Hill? My memory may be playing tricks on me, as I think I remember it being alright in that context, though I wouldn’t choose to listen to it otherwise. The song itself is decent enough I think, the production and Ronan’s vocals letting it down. Not sure about the lyrics though – a creative way of asking for silence perhaps?

    Ronan now in Once on the West End. I can’t imagine him as Outspan in The Commitments though.

  7. 7
    alexcornetto on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Is this the shortest Popular review yet?

    Write-ups like this always make me stupidly happy. I will never forget reading one of a Def Leppard album called YEAH! in the NME, which got 0/10, and simply read “NO!” Tickled me for days, that did.

    As for this…it’s one of those odd cases of The Singer Not The Song, I reckon. It’s a perfectly servicable country ballad – not heard the other versions of it – done a relative injustice by a vocalist with all the charisma of a wet flannel. I do seem to recall it never being off the radio, mind, so I’m gonna give it a workingman’s 4.

  8. 8
    enitharmon on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Haha! Tom, you have written some magnificent lengthy analyses but this is a masterpiece of conciseness.

    This is a rarity for me in these reaches of chart history; one I know and know all too well (but for some reason I thought it was Robbie Williams. Silly me!) And I loathe it with a vengeance.

  9. 9
    James BC on 13 Nov 2014 #

    A fairly uninspiring plundering of Pablo Neruda’s “Me gustas cuando callas”. I never much liked Neruda and it would take more than a pretty guitar figure to make his problematic gibberish into a decent song. 2 is about right.

  10. 10
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Nov 2014 #

    An adequate (as shown up by other interpretations, as mentioned above) rather than outstanding rendering of what is, at least, a vastly superior song to the overwhelming pile of mush that the twin demons of Irish Model Boybands inflicted upon the listening public in the years immediately preceding and succeeding this…

  11. 11
    lmm on 13 Nov 2014 #

    There have been plenty of songs less worthy of the attention given them – in some ways this whole blog is an exercise in excessive detail. I hope this doesn’t become a habit.

  12. 12
    Tom on 13 Nov 2014 #

    #11 Oh ye of little faith! http://freakytrigger.co.uk/popular/2014/11/westlife-if-i-let-you-go/

    (Basically, I wanted to cover this and the next No.1 together, but I knew to do the reader scores I’d need a placeholder, so I decided to do it as a joke entry. I should probably have put them both up together though and not teased, because there’s a bunch of good comments on this already.)

  13. 13
    Izzy on 13 Nov 2014 #

    A lot of wedding references already in the comments, and sure enough we had this as the first dance at ours. It’s a lovely song and a decent, heartfelt performance by Ronan; spoilt towards the end by a horrible key change, but you don’t need to listen that far to get the idea. (7-and-a-bit)

  14. 14
    StringBeanJohn82 on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Very harsh. This is probably RK’s signature song (sadly supplanting Boyzone’s superb reading of Father and Son), certainly the one that gets played the most these days, and the one everyone breaks out when they do their Ronan impersonation (surely the easiest singer to mimic or caricature after Morrissey, Mark E. Smith or Kermit the Frog). I’m not quite on board with the sentiments of the song, it felt sexist even to my young ears at the time, but it’s a beautiful melody with some nice instrumental touches and a reasonably charismatic vocal. I didn’t know it was a cover of country song but now you mention it does have that sort of feel to it, which separates it from the usual boyband ballad rubbish. The song’s staying power on commercial radio and Radio 2 demonstrates that. [5] for me, at least

  15. 15
    Tom on 13 Nov 2014 #

    #14 To be fair, if Mark E Smith or Kermit The Frog decided their metier was soupy love ballads I’d be tough on them too.

  16. 16
    Mark G on 13 Nov 2014 #

    #15, I refer you to “Edinburgh Man” and “Bill is Dead”

    Mind you, Mark E Smith has done a couple of ballads too, hmm let me think..

  17. 17
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Re15: This, I think, is as close as Mark E Smith got to a soupy love ballad. Rather splendid it is too.

    (Re16: ah, I was beaten to the punch).

    I listened to the previous versions of When You Say Nothing At All. Better, but still not great – surprised to find I preferred the Whitley one to Alison Krauss. In all versions, I hate the bit where the drums kick in (and the drums continue to be horrible on all of them).

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I had no idea RK altered the lyrics – that Webster line is terrific. Shame on Ronan! Unless it was a Ken Boothe/Rod Stewart style spontaneous cover, and Ronan just ad-libbed the lines he couldn’t remember. But I’d guess it’s probably closer to Mickie Most steamrollering the bluesy chords on Earl Jean’s I’m Into Something Good back in 1964. There’s progress for you.

    Is this the start (Spice Girls aside) of the ubiquitous Spanish guitar touch that appeared on ballads for a good couple of years?

    Mark E Smith’s touching song for his girlfriend Kay in 1981:

  19. 19
    Ed on 13 Nov 2014 #

    The Webster reference doesn’t work in the UK, of course, and I would guess not in Ireland either.

    We should be grateful we were spared “the Collins Concise it could never define…”

  20. 20
    Jeremy on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I remember being relieved that, on this track, Ronan demonstrated an improved vocal technique. Which says all you need to know about the full horror of his strangled yodeling on the Boyzone tracks.

  21. 21
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Re 19: We don’t say freeway either. You’d have to be quite dim not to get the reference.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I like Alison Krauss’ music – but she can border on the saccharine at times and RK pushes this over the edge – both with his gurgling voice and the pedestrian arrangement. The video seems to be product placement for ‘Notting Hill’ so I’m even more glad I haven’t seen it if this song is a feature

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Enjoy the silence. (3)

  24. 24
    Andrew Farrell on 13 Nov 2014 #

    #21 I’m not sure that there’s a need to bring intelligence as such into it – you’d just have to have not heard of Webster’s Dictionary, which would hardly be shocking this side of the Atlantic.

  25. 25
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Re24: But do you think people would really have been going, ‘Who the fuck is Webster?’ Considering how much of a struggle many people have hearing lyrics anyway, I don’t see what the risk of not changing would have been.

  26. 26
    Tom on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I may be overreacting – nothing could be more likely where Ronan is concerned – but the change speaks volumes about the whole ultra-safe approach: the slightest (and it’s really slight) bit of weirdness or unfamiliarity has to be steamrollered out. What possible harm could an American cultural reference have done? How many sales would it have lost? Sod all! All that would have happened is that some fans would have googled it and others would have used their imagination and maybe come up with interesting fanon ideas about some Webster guy. It’s a charming bit of detail that makes the song richer even if you don’t know what it’s referring to. So of course it has to go.

    It’s a comparison I’m loath to make because it’s such a cliche – but this really is what happens in play-safe marketinbg/advertising departments – copy combed for any hint of idiosyncracy until you’re left with perfect blandness.

  27. 27
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Imagine if Ronan had been given You’re The Tops – I wonder how many lines would have survived. “It’s in France? Can we change it to Natural History Museum?”

    The Websters change does sum up his career. I may have said it before – I always think of Ronan Keating as the Alan Shearer of pop: solid, dull, predictable, literally with a stiff upper lip; he carries himself like a police constable. Look at that cover – it looks like the national anthem is playing behind him.

  28. 28
    Andrew Farrell on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I’m by no means saying that it would be the end of the world if a song contains an obscure reference (brandishes Mountain Goats fan badge), just pointing out that you wouldn’t have to be ‘dim’ to not get it over here.

  29. 29
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    I just don’t think Websters dictionary is very obscure. Maybe ‘dim’ wasn’t the right word but please don’t pick a semantic fight.

  30. 30
    iconoclast on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Too self-consciously pretty to be convincing; too unadventurous to be interesting. FOUR.

  31. 31
    AMZ1981 on 13 Nov 2014 #

    There is actually a bit more to this single than meets the eye. Firstly, Boyzone were still very much an extant band at this point and there was one more single to come before they quietly entered hiatus. Secondly, their hits compilation was in the middle of a nine week (non consecutive – a two followed by a seven) when this single was released and WYSNAA actually featured on that album, despite being a Ronan solo track. Obviously this was also featured on the soundtrack to the film Notting Hill and this could be seen as a clever marketing ploy to see if Keating was marketable as a solo act – if not the single could be treated as a one off and Boyzone could carry on as before.

    After this song entered at the top the mid weeks suggested that Ricky Martin would return for a fourth non consecutive week. Curiously Keating recovered to hold on and Martin slipped to third. Mention must go here to the song in second place – Better Off Alone by DJ Jurgen featuring Alice Deejay (often wrongly credited as the performing artist) which began a three week lock down at number two, outselling all three chart toppers concerned.

    A couple of end notes and apologies for the brackets. Firstly when Notting Hill won best soundtrack at the following year’s Brit Awards (the presentation itself famously disrupted by a face off between Ronnie Wood and Brandon Block) I remember the person accepting the award (I’m not sure who) made a catty comment about Keating trying to pass himself off as the songwriter. And secondly I can’t think of the song now without hearing this – a friend of a friend performed this straight up (ie without the comedy voice) on karaoke a few years back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-mkDSD3TMc

  32. 32
    thefatgit on 13 Nov 2014 #

    That Stuart White fella needs a shoeing.

  33. 33
    anto on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Dreary song from a film that even now makes me wince.

  34. 34
    flahr on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Classic Singing Assembly fare (see Popular comments passim): even a choir of shrieking six-year-olds and sullen mumbling eleven-year-olds is a comfortable match for Ronan, and that combined with the immense teacher value of having the words “you say it best when you say nothing at all” available to point at knowingly meant I remembering performing this a number of jolly times.

  35. 35
    tonya on 14 Nov 2014 #

    I can’t really separate this song from Keith Whitley’s death, so I’m never not depressed by it. This was a country #1 in Christmas of 1988 and Whitley died in May 1989 of alcohol poisoning. Age 33.

  36. 36
    Steve Williams on 14 Nov 2014 #

    Seem to recall the video for this had to be withdrawn and re-edited due to its excessive promotion for Notting Hill – as well as the clips from the film they also included the line “Watch Notting Hill” on screen.

    The thing about this song I really hated was one particular moment in the Top of the Pops performance. In those days, Top of the Pops would usually film just one performance of any given single and repeat it whenever required, so if a song stayed in the chart for a bit you’d get to know the performance very well. Hence in this performance I became totally infuriated with a bit right at the end, in the penultimate line, with Ronan’s big “the smile on your face lets me knooooooooow….” note before the last line. As the audience cheered and applauded, Ronan did an unbelievably smug smirk and nod, clearly thinking “Yeah, NAILED it!”. Hated it enough the first time, absolutely infuriated by about the sixth time.

  37. 37
    Jeremy on 14 Nov 2014 #

    Ronan always was the smuggest man in pop.

  38. 38
    wichitalineman on 14 Nov 2014 #

    Boyzone are on Children In Need tonight. I’m guessing they’ll be still be there in 20 years. Built to last, I fear.

  39. 39
    mapman132 on 16 Nov 2014 #

    Seeing Tom’s initial review of this made me laugh out loud the other day – I’ve been waiting for one like this. I haven’t yet read the actual review of this and the succeeding single. The tune is familiar to me, probably from the Alison Krauss version. I actually don’t mind the song much, but there’s something about Ronan’s voice/delivery that just seems weird. And learning of the Webster switch knocks off an additional point from me, so 3/10.

  40. 40
    ciaran on 12 Dec 2014 #

    There was a version of this sung by Irish Singer Frances Black that had been played quite a lot a year or two before this on Irish Radio so was surprised that Ronan jumped on it so soon.

    Again the review of this is a bit extreme. Not worth the same mark as 911’s 1999 chart topper. A bit play it safe no doubt but hardly that offensive.5

  41. 41
    Musicality on 14 Dec 2014 #

    At the time wasn’t fussed with this but as I’ve gotten older have to say I love it. The lyrics and tone are great in this track.

  42. 42
    irishbearaz on 1 Apr 2019 #

    Don’t get me started on Alison Krauss, whom I adore. I was a country music radio DJ (OK, presenter, maybe) for a number of years, and this song always got requests from listeners. I’m more numb to its many charms for that reason, but Alison Krauss could sell anything.

    Putting aside her original material in bluegrass and with Robert Plant, if you get a chance, you might want to seek out her choice in covers. To cover Blind Faith takes real balls, but her take on “Can’t Find My Way Home” is haunting. Maybe a touch less successful is the song that accompanied “When You Say Nothing At All” to radio, a cover of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, but it’s fresher.

    Notice how I’ve ignored Ronan Keating? Fittingly so.

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