Jul 17

RONAN KEATING – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”

Popular16 comments • 4,376 views

#926, 18th May 2002

ronan tomorrow I have been playing a lot more country music than usual lately, thanks to recommendations by wise friends of foundational albums. It seems to me that listening to country is, inescapably, listening to tradition. Country artists emerge within a tradition and while they may modernise, criticise, expand, revive, reinvent or inherit that tradition, they do not reject it. Roberto Calasso, the Italian philosopher of tradition and ritual, was talking about Vedic seers and the Catholic Church rather than Garth Brooks when he waxed lyrical about how tradition confers a gauze of quasi-mystical legitimacy on individuals and institutions, but the point applies just as well.

Calasso is no idiot – a conservative via pessimism rather than conviction, he knows full well that legitimacy and tradition are just what happens when enough people have chosen to forget past thefts and usurpations. Country music isn’t really more authentic or sincere than all the other kinds, but the investment in tradition gives it an aura of sincerity, of straight-talking honest-truthing God-fearing realness, whose aesthetics and effects are visible enough even if the aura itself is often flimsy. (Calasso understands that the gauze of legitimacy is, by its nature, quite easily shredded – he just thinks that what happens after tends to be worse. What he makes of former Boyzone singer Ronan Keating is unknown, but may be guessed at.)

What makes country music great is that this aura is itself a gateway to expression and tonal play – once the tiresome question of “do they mean it, man?” is taken off the table, the music is opened up more to camp, schmaltz, vulgarity, corn, lust, metaphysical awe and dread, and yes, honest attempts to couple with thorny adult problems and emotions, of which, whether I actually like it or not, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is one.

A music that embraces tradition must also embrace ageing, mortality, loss, the residue other musics can ignore in their pursuit of the ephemeral moment. “If Tomorrow Never Comes” weighs that moment in the scales of eternity, adds slide guitar, and gently suggests that you, dear listener, could be spending it better. The sentiment is folksy, not much more than “remember to call Mom”, but it’s framed with the utmost gravitas, the weight of nocturnal fear and past regrets apparent in Brooks’ rueful, oaken voice. The fact that, despite its obvious craft and serious theme, I don’t much care for the song is probably because I’m a shallow soul terrified of acknowledging my own mortality.

Or it might be because I’ve listened to Brooks’ take once and Ronan Keating’s around twenty times, at which point the concept of ‘eternity’ starts to feel uncomfortably real. Country is rooted; boyband and post-boyband pop has (or had) the opposite problem, coming out of the gate with the stereotype that it’s ephemeral. Just like with country, the best pop doubles down on this, embraces heat and flash and joy, dares you to forget it. But Westlife – and solo Ronan, who generally takes the same approach – break from this, putting dependability above all else.

The result is a particularly gruelling, straining kind of music, desperate to please but not to surprise. Characteristically, the arrangement drops Brooks’ relatively spartan twang for an avalanche of suet: soupy strings, cloying synth beds, a distant flutter of piano, the odd digital click to create a pretence of rhythm. Ronan’s voice attempts the kind of lachrymose yearning Enrique Iglesias pulled off on “Hero”, but he just sounds callow. And as a song about death and responsibility, it’s wretchedly inadequate. There were always platitudes lurking under the surface of Garth Brooks’ song: Keating takes them for its core.



  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jul 2017 #

    “witnesses claimed that the victim appeared to be singing while throwing himself into the road”
    While watching the video and actively listening to this for the first time I thought that this sounded like a country song in its sentiment so I was quite pleased with myself to discover that it was one in its original incarnation. The sentiment and instrumentation also put me in mind of ‘The Living Years’ by Mike & the Mechanics. As that song was released a few months before Garth Brooks’ version I wonder if it may have prompted him to write it – although as you (Tom) say the sentiment is firmly within the Country tradition. As it is this version is a pretty hollow affair, waiting to have life breathed into it by those who fear the loss of their loved ones. As someone whose partner has had some close calls over the last few years I find that it offers no comfort – the musical equivalent of those US politicians who offer their thoughts and prayers after a massacre while doing nothing to prevent further tragedies.

  2. 2
    AMZ1981 on 25 Jul 2017 #

    In one – and only one – respect, If Tomorrow Never Comes is more interesting than the preceding chart topper which I couldn’t even be bothered to comment on. That interesting point is a statistic that wasn’t clear at the time – as of July 2017 this is the last time we meet Ronan Keating (hey – all bad things come to an end as well). I suppose at least he had the satisfaction of outlasting all of the Spice Girls as number one hitmakers and would come close to the bunny a few more times.

    Thankfully the next batch of number one singles give far more scope for discussion.

  3. 3
    Lee Saunders on 25 Jul 2017 #

    Much less interesting than I remember. Totally uninspired, at least in my ears, although it doesn’t infuriate me. Its a 3 from me. I actually don’t remember this from the time, although I do remember the similarly monochromatic I Love It When We Do, which was released as a single on the day I started school – and a full 10 days before my 5th birthday was soundtracked by a compilation called ‘Songs to Make You Feel Good’, the second track of which was Lovin’ Each Day. That’s a song which is completely inseparable from that place in time for me, and all the better for it. If Tomorrow Never Comes on the other hand just makes me think of how its track 1 on Now 52, a Now album which, from a commercial point of view, was sorely lacking Pop Idol and several other bunnies. The rival Hits series (which had been relaunched recently with albums like Hits 52, 53, 54) not only boasted the inclusion of Pop Idol hits on a big roundel on the sleeve, but also had their music videos tacked on as CD-ROM content at the end of disc two.

    Sorry, tangent.

    Also, the video’s backwards car crash stuff reminds me of Coldplay’s The Scientist. The sleeve is kinda…silly. Some scrubby industrial estate or?

  4. 4
    EPG on 25 Jul 2017 #

    Weak cover of a much better original. The song was imported from the USA via Ireland, where it was culturally pervasive in the original rendition. Note that it didn’t make No.1 there, thanks in part to the World Cup and Nickelback, but mainly because the general audience had already been much more heavily exposed to it than had been the case in the UK. (It is a Brooks-mad country. In 2014, he sold 400,000 tickets for a one-week residency, later cancelled amid political controversy; the UK per capita equivalent would be six million tickets.) So the whole Ronan project appears to be an attempt to replicate that success in the UK market, and it worked for a while. But sometimes ephemera are just ephemera. Curious readers should invert the 1:20 ratio and stick to the sources.

  5. 5
    Ed on 25 Jul 2017 #

    Crying out for Richard X to make “If Tomorrow Never Knows”

  6. 6
    ThePensmith on 26 Jul 2017 #

    A bit of crossover here: years before Ronan got hold of this song, a pre-fame Westlife (who he ‘managed’) were famed for singing this acapella on the Smash Hits tour in 1998 that gave them their break. Why they didn’t end up doing it first is anyone’s guess.

    Anyway. Having shot his bolt by releasing the only two decent singles of his solo career (that being his two previous bunnies), Ronan now descended into releasing songs that were either bland-o rehashes of obscure American country hits or rehashes of his more uptempo stuff. This single’s immediate follow-up – and truly the worst thing he recorded – ‘I Love It When We Do’ reached #5 in September, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could remember it now, save for as a winning answer on Pointless. For those who haven’t, it’s essentially ‘Lovin’ Each Day’ with different lyrics. And then that Christmas came a cringey Lulu duet on ‘We’ve Got Tonight’ that also went top 5 and which I could live without hearing again.

    And then in the years after (specifically 2004), as Amz1981 touched on, he had a string of #2 hits, all of which got there on dwindling fanbase and the poor sales climate of the time alone, and which stayed for little more than a month in the top 40 – ‘She Believes in Me’ and ‘I Hope You Dance’ both surely ranking as least remembered runners up of the decade. Were it not for the actual Christmas bunny that year, we’d have met him, having exhausted every obscure country track in the book, rehashing a song he first did with Boyzone.

    He finally came unstuck in 2006, when a cover of the then soon to be reactivated – thanks to several screechy reality TV covers of it – ‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls conked out in the top 20. He now only perenially reappears before Mother’s Day to plug a new cash in album of varyingly bizarre themes – 2011’s Burt Bacharach collaboration ‘When Ronan Met Burt’, for instance.

    Further down the chart that week was the all hype but non eventful ‘battle of solo Steps’ which was ‘won’ (in the loosest sense of that word) by the very two members that were responsible for the split, in H & Claire, with the pathetically limp ‘DJ’. They’d release two more top 10s and a flop album, all the while performing at pop shows that year to pantomime boos and jeers asking for Steps songs. Faye Tozer came in almost forgotten at #10 with the Russell Watson collaboration ‘Someone Like You’ (originally recorded with Cleo Higgins, of Cleopatra fame, a year previous to this).

    As this is the last Ronan or Boyzone entry to Popular for now, mention should be made here I feel, of his late former colleague Stephen Gately, who died in 2009. Truly one of the more shocking notable deaths of the last 8 years, as it was so unexpected. He always struck me as the nicest of the lads back in the day when I saw them being interviewed. Terrible shame.

  7. 7
    ThePensmith on 26 Jul 2017 #

    Re: ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’. A glance at my iTunes library reveals I have a remix of Ronan’s version by Mark Taylor, who we met on Cher’s ‘Believe’ and more recently Enrique’s ‘Hero’, which makes it sound like the lost great follow up to No Mercy’s ‘Where Do You Go’ that never was. That version gets a 6 from me, otherwise, a 1 is about accurate.

  8. 8
    AMZ1981 on 26 Jul 2017 #

    Of all the pop group members of the 90s Ronan Keating did pretty much have the second most successful solo career (Geri topped the charts more times but shot her bolt pretty quickly). However when I followed the thought through I realised that Robbie isn’t directly comparable in some respects as he traded on his difference to his pop group roots, rather than simply evolving his solo career from part of the existing brand. So Ronan Keating must have got something right.

    I agree with thepensmith that Stephen Gately’s death in 2009 (aged 33, three years younger than I am in 2017) was a big shame. His own attempt at a solo career had tanked but by the time of his death he had carved out a career in musical theatre and his novel, The Tree Of Seasons, was surprisingly readable – which made him the versatile talent of the group. I think the rest of Boyzone keep the brand going now as much to keep his memory alive as anything else and deserve some credit for that.

  9. 9
    James BC on 26 Jul 2017 #

    I’d forgotten about Ronan’s ill-fated cover of Iris. It must have seemed like an open goal – take this huge, well-known song that’s somehow never been a big hit and give it to an enduringly bankable talent. I’ve no idea how it flopped, but what a mercy.

  10. 10

    adding to the comments abt Stephen Gately: a close friend — via some weird agency thing — ended up being SG’s PA for a day on some video-shoot or something, and said he was one of the loveliest ppl she ever worked with

  11. 11
    Todd on 27 Jul 2017 #

    I try to listen to the song being reviewed while reading Tom’s articles, but reading Tom’s eloquent meditation on the legitimacy of country music while listening to Ronan’s mewling dogshit was actively painful for me.

  12. 12
    hardtogethits on 27 Jul 2017 #

    When forced to try and remember this, I end up thinking of I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing by Aerosmith, and Cherish by Kool And The Gang.* Songs To Keep Your Partner Awake Because They Will Be Troubled That When They Try To Get Some Sleep, You’d Be Watching Them, Volume One.

    *IIRC Both number 4 hits which stayed in the top 5 for over 10 years, or something.

  13. 13
    wichitalineman on 27 Jul 2017 #

    Classic Radio 2 fare from the time – I don’t ever remember them playing Garth Brooks’ version, so it didn’t offend me, and I’d much rather this gentle nudge than the sledgehammer sentiment of The Living Years, heavenly choir and all. Popular runner-up BA Robertson was responsible for that horror, another no.2 hit, and one of those rare records that makes me turn the radio off.

    The Living Years still gets Radio 2 plays, but ITNC doesn’t. It’s just too milky, isn’t it? The song is strong, the performance is competent, and – given the lyric – that’s not enough. Still, I’d give it 4.

  14. 14
    Lee Saunders on 3 Jul 2019 #

    I’ve just noticed that while I Love It When We Do lasted a predictable 3 weeks in the top 40, it spent a whopping 27 weeks in the top 100, troubling the lower numbers for half a year. What on earth was going on there?

  15. 15
    hardtogethits on 3 Jul 2019 #

    Well, Lee #14, it’s my assumption that this was one of many hits from a long spell (>10 years?) which developed a ‘long tail’ (ie sold for ages) because it was discounted at retail (Asda, Woolworth especially) after its sales had peaked. In such cases the discounts were ‘skimmed’ – it’s not selling at 99p, let’s try 49p etc.

    More anon – I’ll try and substantiate this with some harder evidence, but believe me it happened.

    A similar technique – one off heavy discounting – led to some absurd revivals, inc at least one Christmas song re-entering the Top 75 when Woolworths priced it at 20p.

  16. 16
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    A reasonable effort from Ronan here. A generous 5/10 from me.

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