irst up, “Switch It On” is a fabulous schizophrenia, single of the year, “Footloose” by way of Bo Diddley, Basement Jaxx, “Living In Another World” by Talk Talk, Dolly Parton, “Faith” by George Michael and Will Young’s very own psychotherapeutic primal screaming techniques. The first three times I heard it on radio I didn’t believe it was Will Young. It has post-apocalyptic Mark Feltham harmonica lashed over the increasingly insane chorus, a silly guitar solo that sounds like a psychedelic rock band rather than a TV-audience-choice pop tart; it has Will squealing about wanting to be free, about being on a mission, about how this is his time. The beat is knackers. In the bridge he yells, “I can’t breathe! / GOT NO AIR NOW!” There isn’t really a tune, apart from the opening melody which is the “Footloose” bit (the son of an infamous pop situationist pointed that similarity out to me, oddly enough), and then the bit near the end when the acoustic guitar comes over all “Faith” and Will does a Dolly Parton thing. It’s fucking crackers and I love it. It’s avant-pop, and it made me desperate to hear the album it heralds just in case Will Young had somehow, somewhere, gone insane and made the best record ever, with songs about oceans and apples and coffee cups and the human race’s place in the universe.
He hasn’t, obviously, because no one ever will. But Keep On is fucking good.
Many people seemed disappointed when Will Young won the inaugural Pop Idol; surely a university-educated, middle class man doesn't need to be a pop star when he could surely have a very comfortable career as a… stockbroker or lawyer or management consultant? But given the pace with which Gareth Gates was relieved of his career (only marginally quicker than Jordan relieved him of his virginity) (not to mention Sneddon, Parks, or the rapidly-dulling Lemar), and give the longevity that Young has now shown (third album and counting, people) it appears that actually he was precisely the type of person who should be winning televisual talent contests.
When the beat amps up and the strings drop in two-minutes into the introductory title track, you know this is a record with intent. Then there are trumpets and some tiny, micro-audible “whoop whoop” sounds buried in the mix, and this fat, techno-funk groove with a great pop melody over the top, Will hollering and wailing like a… like a soul singer, dude. You can’t handle that, can you, outraged rockist? He’s white and gay and on a major label and from a TV program. Well, “All Time Love,” the big, sweeping, piano-led ballad, sounds like something off the Antony & The Johnsons record. At various points on this album Will Young brings to mind Michael Jackson and Tim Buckley.
“Ain’t Such A Bad Place To Be” is full of dramatic string sweeps and squelching beats, like some updated Broadway number for the post-Britney generation. That’s Pino Palladino on bass. Which means that Will Young is the new Rufus Wainwright. Lyrically, of course, you could probably say some amateur pop-cult-crit-shit about how it’s all self-referential and “really about his own role in the pop world” or something as if that wasn’t what all pop songs ever were about since Chuck Berry. “Think It Over” is straightforward funk-pop, big organ swirls, and sharply chopping guitar licks and yet more shit-hot horns. “Who Am I” is a self-deprecating ballad built on Blue-Nile-alike ambience rather than Mariah schmaltz. “Happiness” is a slightly sinister bossa-nova thing (I think, crucify me if I’m wrong) which includes the refrain “Happiness is being gay / … Happiness never lasts long.” “Madness” is about feeling insane because you’re gay and the rest of the world is straight. The whole album seems to be obsessed with A; feeling like you’re suffering from severe mental illness and B; not being able to get a steady partner because you’re a fantastic gay pop star rather than a normal dude who likes gurlz and working in an office. Often B causes A.
The final track is a seven-minute avant-garde neo-classical Anglo-Indian ambient collaboration between Will and Nitin Sawhney. I don’t imagine David Sneddon can even comprehend it. Keep On has funky basslines, sharp production, lavish strings, taut melodies, and 21st century pop nous bursting out of its seams.