Over here at PressPLAY we often find ourselves asking a question: does the world have room for Will Young any more? Not in terms of his talent, which is as sharp as ever since the excellent Echoes. More so the pop landscape, which now accommodates the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith as its two main male stars. Pop Idol was a long time ago, and Young is neither an eccentric like Rufus Wainwright nor on the sanitised mum-pop end of things like (shudder) Gary Barlow. So where does a record like 85% Proof fit in today?
The easy – and facetious – answer would be Radio 2, and leave it at that. You only need to look to lead single Love Revolution to hear him channel that airwave-favouring daytime soul, though it works remarkably well. But as soon as the album opens with Brave Man, the answer seems to unfurl on its own: Will Young is the mature, British pop performer who, while very much keeping his toe in genre tradition, is still someone we’d quite miss.
The most endearing thing about Will Young these days is that he’s not trying to be anyone other than Will Young. He doesn’t need to pluck like Sheeran or strain like Smith. There’s remarkable pause and patience in his work, perhaps something that reflects his current mental state. That idiosyncratic falsetto doesn’t need to get an outing on every track (Gold is surprisingly measured), but even when it emerges on a song like I Don’t Need A Lover, its buttery tones are served with perfect seasoning.
Sure, there are a few missteps (U Think I’m Sexy? No no no) but 85% Proof is an album of admirable balance. We’d still like a few more risks from Will Young – and perhaps a register that doesn’t sound so resigned – but there’s no doubt that there’s still a lot of fight left in this man. We’re just ready for that 100% now.
85% Proof by Will Young can be ordered here.