Will Young - 85% Proof
Retaining a shed load of kudos for being the only Pop Idol (ask your mum) contestant to properly tell Cowell to go fuck himself, the most credible and enduring product of the talent show conveyor continues to mock the whole sorry, disintegrating exercise by being, you know, good. It might have taken him a couple of albums of suits-satisfying stodge to hit his stride but, as demonstrated by a switch from his stock-in-trade robust balladry to the crisp, electro-influenced sheen of 2011's Echoes, the only game Will Young is playing, nearly 15 years after he upset both the bookies and Gareth Gates' (again, ask your mum) dreams of stardom, is his own.
If lead single 'Love Revolution' (a slab of Ronson-esque robo-soul engineered around the guts of Tomcraft's trance behemoth 'Happiness') has done its job, new paymasters Island should be laughing all the way to their AGM. On paper, it's unholy folly but, sporting sharp, Stax-y remodelling, it's a scene-setting blast. 'U Think I'm Sexy' goes Prince with both title and groove. 'Promise Me', whose frantic rhythms are a beat away from drum and bass, makes for a trio of bustling big 'uns. But it’s the ballads that shine this time around, not least the grandeur and candour of 'Thank You' whose catalogue of love crimes doesn’t speak at all well for the accused, Young switching the hook to a whispered "fuck you…" at its close. Throughout, of course, he sings like the stupidly gifted genius that his Gates-loving (Gatesgate?) sulky ex-paymaster somehow never quite dared admit.
If you're one of those difficult-to-please types who bleats about their love for "good" pop, pop but only when it's "done well", here's your precious 'pop' in an uncommonly advanced guise, expertly executed. True to its name, 85% Proof is a heady and bewitching brew, superior by far to its watered-down, mainstream equivalents. Seek it out because it's soulful, intelligent and inventive in ways it really has no right to be. Buy it, not for the Will Young fan in your life but for someone who, like the worst kind of bore, still bemoans his dodgy provenance. And do see him live where the voice gets to really shine and his easy charm continues to fool his legion of largely female fans that they're still in with a chance.