Hmm. Olly Murs. I’m still struggling to decide what I think about him. Originally I was very anti-Olly, during his tenure on X-Factor. Week after week he would wheel out tedious covers (usually the Beatles) and do his trademark crazy dancing in his trousers that were too tight. As a pro-Joe viewer, Olly represented the enemy that needed to be squashed. It didn’t end up terribly for Joe, he’s currently clinging on the charts by the skin of his cover albums, but Olly incredibly went on to be one of the most successful X-Factor alumni ever.
Admittedly that’s not a high watermark, just having a second hit album is a feat in itself for an X-factor winner, let along the runner-up. Olly seems to have really wormed his way into the public consciousness though, in a way that Alexandra Burke, Shayne Ward, or even JLS haven’t quite managed. “Housewives’ favourite”, they say. Frustratingly, despite me hating on him for a while, the tide seems to be turning generally, and I’ve had to admit I rather liked “Busy” from his first album, and a few cuts from this latest album. So time to bite the bullet and see if the follow-up is more than just fodder for brainless Asda mums to throw into their trolleys.
08 Heart skips a beat – Well this was a massive comeback single, and a bit of a change in direction, or more change in marketing direction. With a feature credit from duo-of-the-moment Rizzle Kicks, as well as a more modern sound than his more easy-listening efforts to date, this went down well. It’s a bit of an early-90s throwback somehow, and it’s good for that comparison. I didn’t go overboard on this like some former-haters, but it’s a strong track and an inspired launchpad for an always-risky followup album.
07 Oh my goodness – He doesn’t have much of a vocal range generally, and this is a pretty big example of that. Production-wise we are visiting that sort of retro-current sound that I can’t quite describe, almost a bit Motown isn’t it? It’s nice when it gets going, if a little extraordinary. It’s got that vaguely Mark Ronson sound to it, if Mark were to deign to work with someone off the TV. It’s nice enough, no complaints really.
08 Dance with me tonight – Back to his old tricks, this is a real 50s throwback, perhaps ruining Marcus Collins’ strategy as the latest x-Factor runner-up. That swingin’ sound of the olden days, it’s annoyingly catchy, and one of the tracks that started to win me around, even though this isn’t really the sound I like to listen to generally. It’s got quite a sweet melody to the chorus, isn’t it, as generic as it is.
07 I’ve tried everything – Running around, breaking things, getting into fights. Well he might be from Essex but even this seems quite unconvincing, he’s still in cheeky chappy mode, in what feels like a direct extension from the previous track. As such, it’s alright but not quite as good. His voice hasn’t really developed much at all, it baffles me that they find these acts on x-Factor and seemingly don’t polish them up for their chart debuts. One Direction are a particularly good example of this, they couldn’t sing a harmony to save their lives and they STILL CAN’T.
07 This song is about you – Oh bare your soul Olly! He doesn’t find it as easy as baring his arse (which he’s done on several occasions already). But it’s ballad time, and he tries his best in what feels like a bit of a lightweight rip-off of “Apologize” by OneRepublic (aka most songs Ryan Tedder has written). It’s at least a change of pace, and he’s trying to SING a little more than he has done so far. It’s alright but you need some power before you make a power ballad. The middle-eight is pretty good though, as is the buildup to the last chorus. Only there’s no climax, it’s just another chorus. Ho hum…
07 In case you didn’t know – Oh god why is this so familiar? What is this song? Does it just sound like another Olly song, or is it like something else? I think I heard this in a Hollister a little while ago and really liked it, but maybe that’s just because everything sounds and looks great in Hollister, I think they put hallucinogens in the perfume pumped around the place. But the tone is pretty standard for the course, a vague hint of reggae perhaps (that’s more than enough), though the chorus is a little insubstantial. It’s OK.
07 Tell the world – They really know his market don’t they? It’s like this album is a distilled cocktail of all the major radio hits of the last 5 years. Now we’ve got some sort of mix of Bruno Mars and Jason Mraz. Again it’s perfectly acceptable, and it’s frustrating that I can’t grab onto anything to either criticise or appreciate it more strongly than a vague feeling of good/bad. This is why all the scores have been 8s or 7s so far. This is really quite pleasant, one of the better tracks of the 7/10s. Is that praise faint enough?
06 I’m OK – So a bit of conflict in Olly’s life now, he’s dumped some no-good cow who’s been sleeping around. But it’s OK, he’s OK, except he’s not, but it’s delivered in such an unconvincing way that instead of a heartfelt outpouring of emotion, he might as well be singing off a card. And that “Woteva” moment … gah! If I didn’t know a word of English I might enjoy this more, as ever the reliably upbeat melody and production do well, but there’s just not an ounce of emotion in this.
05 Just Smile – More old-school ‘excitement’ now, and my dear Karen Poole is a co-writer. She doesn’t strike gold every time, and this is one of those times I think. She used to write for Will Young, and at several points I find myself thinking he’s trying to fill a more mainstream template left when Will went onto more worthy difficult material (you know these arty types). Again it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it’s just THERE. Stop telling me to smile, I can be very contrary when I want to be *scowl*
07 On my cloud – More semi-inspired mid-90s production here, which is at least a decent angle to play, instead of just mimicking radio hits. Is he trying to sound like he’s got SWAGGER or something? As a very white person I probably wouldn’t know the first thing about swagger, but I know Olly doesn’t either. Despite the sassier delivery of his vocals he doesn’t really have much impact with his words, but at least it sounds a little better than previous tracks.
06 I don’t love you too – No we are really going around in circles aren’t we now? I’m not sure if he’s imitating other artists, or older styles, or just repeating himself. Back to the vague-ish Motown sound, which as ever is a solid formula to make a totally listenable song, but I’m left with the question “so what?”. If he’s going to do this, can’t he cover “Earth Angel” from Back to the Future? Now THAT was a song. So it’s OK again… *zzzzz*
08 Anywhere else – Oh I like the intro, even when he starts singing it sounds pretty different to the other tracks, like some sort of inspirational song that Take That might have done (as a bonus track for a film or something). Actually that’s a point, his voice doesn’t sound that far off Mark Owen’s in places, which is quite a caustic sound to my ears. Olly’s a competent singer, but I get the feeling that at his current pace he will never WOW me with his vocals, he’s just a foil for some good melodies and songwriters. There are some really quite lovely parts to this song, and there is a decent tempo FINALLY! I’ll upgrade the comparison to a Take That soundtrack song to a film you might even want to SEE!
07 I need you now – Sadly in the “radio hits of the last 5 years” cover game, this one seems to be looking at Adele but sitting next to Scouting For Girls. Maybe that’s harsh, this is only the second proper ballad-sounding track, and his delivery (or just lyric cards) are pretty solid. It’s not a new concept, a love song for a stranger, but it’s a surprisingly poignant one, even with this guy singing about it in the exact same tone as the previous 12 tracks. Who is that lady harmonising with him? What a nice surprise! Not a bad closing track, all in all. Maybe I’m just happy it’s all over…
So that’s that. Perhaps I didn’t go into this with the open mind I usually do, but I can’t do much about that. I didn’t find is as punishing an experience as I feared, and in fairness despite 13 tracks, the album is a slim 45 minutes long. The problem I have is that I feel that none of the songs have any resonance with Olly himself. I’ve never been one to go “Oh well so-and-so don’t write their own songs”, and I hate that argument, but in this case it might be a fair point.
I don’t mean to say Olly doesn’t have anything to say, but these 13 tracks don’t feel like they relate to him at all, and could easily have been sung (as album tracks) for some of the big radio-friendly acts that he is apeing. Indeed he’s carved quite a successful niche with this sort of sound, but it’s not one that’s going to give me any sense of anticipation for a third album if he continues like this. The production is pretty on-point, so the resulting album is deceptively listenable if you aren’t really paying attention, but when I actually had to think about it, the experience sort of fell apart.
Keepers for the iPod: Heart skips a beat, Dance with me tonight, Anywhere else