Sunday, 16 August 2009

1987 Rick Astley: Never Gonna Give You Up

After a promising start with Dead Or Alive and their work with Mel & Kim, 'Never Gonna Give You Up' for me marks the exact zero day that Messer's Stock, Aitken and Waterman abandoned any attempt at innovation or boat rocking experimentation and hitched their wagon to the hit making formula they'd go on to use time and time and time and time again. To whit - a rolling electronic percussion based backing rhythm that varies only in terms of subtle key shifts whilst all melody is carried by a lead vocal that builds to a hummable chorus designed to stick in the mind. A production line product in fact.

Not that there's anything wrong with production lines per se; Ferraris are built on production lines, as was the majority of the musical output of Motown, Brill Building etc. The difference, of course, lies in the attention to detail; 'Never Gonna Give You Up' is based around the Philly soul model, but after inevitably filtering itself through the very British 'three middle aged white blokes with a sequencer' processing, the resulting sound is more stodge than sweet, a cheap and lumpen copy that's to it's source material what a Ford Capri is to a Lamborghini.

Astley has a decent enough voice to be sure, but it's a voice more akin to a top class impressionist 'doing' a soul singer than the real deal, and in any case it falls far short of being worthy of the amazed 'Oh my god I can't believe he's not black!!!' cries that were prevalent in 1987. You can't pin too much fault on the lad though; the song moves along a tad too hurriedly to provide room for a good soulful blast out and even Al Green would struggle to do anything more with it than Astley manages.

'Never Gonna Give You Up' makes all the right moves for a catchy pop song, but it hangs together like a cheap suit from Primark. Each 'section' of it is stitched to the next in such a style neglecting and predictable fashion that, even on first listen, you can tell exactly when Rick is going to start singing, exactly where the backing singers will chip in, exactly where the chorus is going to arrive and even what the lyric rhymes are going to be etc. It's a song bereft of ideas, feeling, colour, individuality, soul and fun.

Nope, there's no fun to be had here, and if the '80's' of popular nostalgia only really began when The Jam split, I don't think it would be too harsh to say that they effectively ended with this. Because even at the decade's worst and most ludicrously pretentious, there was always a face saving/smile cracking element of bravado or piss taking humour that was rarely present in anything the strait laced and very, very earthbound SAW 'hit factory' did. Rather than aiming high for the stars, 'Never Gonna Give You Up' chugs along a coastal road to the sea where it sits and watches the waves with a tartan blanket over its knees.

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