Truth to tell, I wasn't sure quite what to expect from Peyton. I never watched much of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy UK, the TV show which, apparently, 'brought Peyton global recognition', having seen the original American version and found it to be, frankly, lowest-common-denominator television pandering to society's most primitive stereotypes about men, both homosexual and heterosexual. It must be said, though, that I have equally little time for musical 'purists' who bemoan an age in which almost any individual can walk off the set of a reality-TV show and into a recording studio with a major-label contract in their back pocket. All that the advent of reality television has done is to slightly alter the process by which some artists at the most manufactured end of the pop music spectrum are chosen and presented to the public. In a way, the new method is more democratic, as the television viewing public now indirectly decide, when they warm to one particular 'character' in a show, who'll be making the music they listen to a couple of months down the line.
So as I slapped the disc in my CD player, I wasn't holding Peyton's previous television work against him. Indeed, I held out hopes that this would be an album a good few cuts above the usual fodder, given all the talk of Peyton's religious background and Gospel choir upbringing. I wasn't expecting an album of spirituals, of course, but I thought I might get something a little less throwaway and frivolous than the music often offered by ex-reality "stars".
Be careful what you wish for, I say. Peyton, like some slap-headed, malevolent genie, has given me what I desired. And then some. This album manages to drag on for fifty-five minutes of very 'worthy', very 'philisophical', very 'deep' stuff. It's positively jam-packed with the kind of faux-intellectual lyrics that have made Noel Gallagher a very rich man over the past few years. Lyrically, the better tracks are bland and uninspiring, but some are far worse, desperately laboured and painfully clichéd. It's a similar story with the arrangements. The fundamental problem seems to be that of an identity crisis, not the identity crisis suffered by a boy from a strict religious background who grows up to realise that he is gay, the story that "Peyton" purports to tell, but a musical identity crisis.
Peyton imitates Moby's brand of gospel-techno, ("Love's Going On"). He rips off "I Will Survive" and every other diva-esque, vocally bombastic, lyrically 'inspirational' triumph-over-adversity anthem, (flaccid recent single "I'll Rise). Not content with this, seemingly, Peyton launches into a pale imitation of "Older"-era George Michael, with the tragic (for all the wrong reasons) "Dangerous Game". Also, "You On My Mind" is akin to Pet Shop Boys at their laziest, and without the sense of humour, as the album takes a sudden turn towards conventional dance as it approaches its close, smacking of a sheer lack of imagination.
Worst of all, however, stylistically, is the continual aping of a certain sound that came to prominence in the mind ninteties, as bands like the Lighthouse Family and M-People gained fame. It's an instantly recognisable style, cheap, electronic-sounding drums, cheap, electronic-sounding piano, 'gospel' choirs, and yet more of this 'inspirational' subject matter that seems to be such a theme for Peyton, despite the total lyrical ineptidute displayed throughout the album. Frankly, I thought we'd grown out of this sort of music, the kind that masquerades as soul but is is, in reality, the least soulful sound imagineable. If either Peyton, or someone on his 'team' has at some point decided that this is the best way of making his gospel roots apparent yet accessible to a commercial audience then they are very much mistaken. The easiest way, yes, but surely not the best.
One wonders quite why Peyton has ended up in such a predicament, given that the songs on his debut are almost uniformly awful, regardless of where his inspiration for each track lies. Perhaps it's the label, certainly, such a dance-orientated label seems to be an odd choice for an artist who seems to be striving so hard to make soul music, yet finds each song being driven by the driving, thumping, four-square beats of techno and house by the second or third minute. Then again, regardless of what the label may or may not want Peyton to be releasing, the fact is that the songs don't hold water, lyrically or musically, and the entire album is totally stylistically indecisive. Can't blame the label for that no matter how hard you try. You can, of course, blame the producer, and the standard of production on this album is certainly an issue. Whichever style Peyton is launching into, the production is the same, overbearing, tacky and sterile. You can almost feel Peyton's voice struggling against it.
And well it might struggle, for it is quite a voice, thus making the albums many failings all the more frustrating. Listening to Peyton sing, one can almost begin to understand his apparently uncontrollable desire to flit between musical styles, such is his vocal versatility. From low whispers to soul shouting, with a smooth, balanced tenor somewhere in between, this is clearly a man fully in command of his voice. Such a shame his production team weren't. Yes, occassionally, his phrasing can slip into R&B cliché, but were it not for Antony and the Johnsons, Peyton's would have been the best white soul voice I'd heard in recent years. It's particularly telling that, by far the best song on the album is the cover of the spiritual "I'll Fly Away". Mercifully the production is kept sparse from start to finish, allowing Peyton's voice to do all the work in terms of shifts in tone and dynamics. Left with the chance to finally sing with the soul he has been striving for, Peyton shines. As a perfomance, it's a tour-de-force, and, of course, the lyrics don't grate as they do on the original tracks. Basically, though, it's the one redeeming feature of an abysmal album.
One hopes that, in the future, if he has one, Peyton can keep to the simple, piano-based production with the vocal to the fore, as heard on "I'll Fly Away". Whatever he does, he can't try to repeat the formula on his self-titled debut because, even if this album had been done well, it would have been redundant anyway. An album of modern, soul-fuelled, gospel-inflected, more-than-a-little-bit camp, danceable pop? Certainly seems to be what the aim was with "Peyton", inexpertly put together or not. Sadly for Peyton, though, that's not a niche to carve out any more, Will Young's beaten him to it. He had good tunes, they were produced with tact and class, the lyrics were kept on the lighthearted side, avoiding all this pseudo-spiritual claptrap, and the resultant album, "Friday's Child", was a triumph.
Which almost makes me feel sorry for our Peyton, with the realisation that even trying to make this album was futile. Even if it had been put together with a damn sight more spit and polish, chances are I'd have been unable to avoid the comparison and would still be sitting here saying: 'it's not as good as "Friday's Child"'. That it's not as good as an album of Lighthouse Family B-sides is doubly dissapointing. If the record buying public dislike this record as much as I do, things won't be looking good for Peyton, but let's hope the voice wins through, and he can still find his place in the musical world. As awful as "Peyton" is, I'd give the lad another chance. Question is, in this era when pop stars come ready made on television and wannabe celebrities are two-a-penny, will the record industry be as forgiving?