Hmm, yeah, that is a bit odd. First Joe releases a song where the hook-line consists of the lyric “Ambitions are already starting to fade”, which, on it’s own, doesn’t show much hope for his music career, and now he’s releasing a song with a rather erroneous title seeing because it appears on an album titled ‘Wide Awake’. Hmm… Just a fleeting thought…
Now, you don’t need to point a finger because I already know I’m usually the first person to jump, point and laugh when a song underperforms chart-wise, particularly when it’s a song I dislike. I have a stock of questions I’ll be more than happy to throw at a song or artist(s) and start a bit of chart enthusiast banter over why it underperformed, who’s to blame, and why, maybe, the release strategy should be re-thought. And as much as I actually like little Jaw McElderry pet, I’m finding it hard not to question why he’s failed to produce that #1 X Factor staple, both with ‘Wide Awake’ and début single ‘Ambitions’.*
The easy thing that internet bloggers everywhere did is simply slam him for sounding too different to his “X Factor sound” (which to be honest, is a load of rubbish considering all he and the other contestants did was cover songs by other artists, so how on Earth did they have a specific “sound”?); others will claim it’s because he’s not built for the Fame Game, and that his voice is more suited to the West End (but, being brutally harsh, his music video acting is awful, so that’s a no-go zone anyway). I like to blame musical climate.
‘Ambitions’ could easily be slotted into that ‘bubblegum pop’ kind of category; not quite ‘wonky pop’ – there’s no piano – but it is, above all else, the kind of song you play to yourself, because it’s a bit embarrassing to be seen or heard listening to. And because the charts these days have taken a tilt (read: landslide) towards the urban/R&B/dubstep scene, there’s no place for cheesy, fun-for-all pop anymore. Gone are Alphabeat, Mika, Scissor Sisters etc., even Kylie is struggling with her single sales. It’s fair to say that the charts are no longer much fun. In fact, they are boring.
With Joe’s third single release, and his first original song, ‘Someone Wake Me Up’, the cheesiness is brought down a smidge and the euphoric uproar of a heavily emotional chorus is turned up to a maximum. Think Snow Patrol and you’re half way there. It’s a simple guitar ballad with a hint of europop to it, especially in the bridge where Joe’s vocal are reverberated – “Don’t say ‘I love you’/Cos that would drive me crazy”.
Whilst the production as a whole is hardly a step down from ‘Ambitions’, it is used to much better effect, with Joe’s voice conveying some of that emotion and clarity we heard when he was on The X Factor. Unfortunately, this cannot be said about the verses, which are ridiculously auto-tuned to the point where he actually sounds like he’s not singing in English – “You got me sky high/Like rockets in flight/Now something in my head just don’t feel right”, comes out like – “Yooka mih sky high/Lak rockets ay flar/Now svomten eema head just dawnt feel right”. Thankfully, the unnecessary auto-tune isn’t present in the absolutely phenomenal chorus, but even though the lyrics from then on are much more audible, it’s once again very disheartening to think that Simon and Ray Hedges (the producer, who also produced ‘Ambitions’) had such little faith in Joe’s marketability they had to go and auto-tune every note he sings. Do they think it’s going to get him to sell more because everyone’s using it nowadays?
Problem is, it’s not going to sell. Today’s music climate is much harsher than what it was back in 2007-2008. Back then you could have two underperforming singles and still have a hit with the third, fourth or even fifth single, given the right promotion. But now, especially with mainstream radio’s purist playlists, it’s near-on impossible for an act to get support after an underperforming single. Take ‘Ambitions’, which only got C-Listed by Radio 1 in comparison to Shayne’s, Leona’s, Leon’s, and Alexandra’s début singles, all of which got A-Listed. Add to that the fact that ‘Ambitions’ failed to reach #1; left to reach the (not so) dizzying heights of #6, and you can kiss goodbye to promotion of the second single. Radio 1 just don’t have a clue.
The release is connected to the third instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, and will be released as the soundtrack single. So that’s why there’s some scenes of some random children on a boat. There’s a lion, too.
I like the concept, and it looks like – even with the scenes from the film – that a bit more money was put into it than ‘Ambitions’, which quite frankly had a rubbish video.
When you take all things into account, and if you manage to ignore the fact that, for some reason, publicly liking or supporting Joe McElderry is seriously un-cool, this is a solid pop single. A very good one, and it’s nice to see more emotion in the voice and the lyrics, because it doesn’t sound like Joe’s trying too hard to “not be generic”. He takes the song in his stride, and comes out on top; if only he’d released this as the lead single…
Rating: 4.5 STARS
Download: December 6, 2010 (OUT NOW)
Featured Album: ‘Wide Awake’
*It’s not the end of the world though… I can put these questions to Alesha Dixon now.