On Nick Cave's spoken word recording 'The Secret Life Of The Love Song', he valiantly attempts to debunk the notion that Stock, Aitken and Waterman only plied a series of self build, MFI songs by solemnly reciting the lyrics to Minogue's 'Better The Devil You Know' single in the manner of one reading an eulogy in order to show their true artistic value. "I'll forgive and forget if you say you'll never go. 'Cos its true what they say, it's better the devil you know" he furrows, and it is a nice idea but Cave's methods did nothing for me I'm afraid - after all, an interpretive spin can be put onto anything depending on whether you approach it from a glass half full or a glass half empty perspective, yet it's all for nothing when there isn't a glass there in the first place.
'Better The Devil You Know' is a trite bagatellebuilt around the cliché of its title that serves the basic function of giving Minogue something to sing, whilst conveying a simplistic message that all can understand by virtue of the fact that it is a cliché. Why am I banging on about Nick Cave and a Kylie song that was never a number one? Good question. And up until a few days ago I wouldn't have thought to make any reference to either of these and this particular review would have been a whole lot shorter (I don't like 'Hand On Your Heart' much, as you'll find out). But while browsing on YouTube the other day I came across a recording of 'Hand On Your Heart' by Jose Gonzales.
Again, as long as you know the song and you know Gonzales' style (basically David Gray's wimpier brother), then you'll have a fair idea of what this sounds like - a minor key acoustic strum with embellishments, over which Gonzales intones the lyrics with a quivering lower lip. Sincere in his angst he may well be, but his interpretation convinces about as well as Cave's does. And that's not so much through any fault of their own, but because the source material lacks sufficient backbone to actually allow it to work. They can both sound as desolate and mournful as they like, but if you're mournfully and desolately reading the back of a Corn Flakes packet then the overall impression is one of self delusion on the singer's part rather than any kind of shared experience for the listener.
"Well it's one thing to fall in love, but another to make it last. I thought that we were just beginning, and now you say we're in the past": to call that sixth form poetry is an insult to sixth formers, and I'd suggest all those who do find such recitations emotionally touching will also find (at the other end of the spectrum) something uplifting and life affirming in a Whitney Houston power ballad. I have a view on people like that too, but I've got too much class than to openly criticise someone else's musical tastes in a negatively broadbrush way (after all, I once had Chris De Burgh obsession lest we forget.).
So what of the present Minogue version? Well even though there's evidence of a few sessions with a voice coach since her debut, the vocal is still as thin as Oliver Twist's gruel (yet like Master Twist, the record buying public still wanted more of it), and that's ok because the song itself is even thinner, being yet another 'pop and crisps disco' blare that pushes its one line of melody to the fore at the expense of anything and everything else. The verses are thrown off in a perfunctory manner in the haste to get to the hook of the chorus that's repeated again and again with the irritating regularity of a roadworker's jack hammer, battering home the message of questioning the devotion of another with a simplicity that does not lend itself to the sort of close inspection Gonzales subjected it to. SAW wrote 'Hand On Your Heart' as a major key bouncer for Minogue to honk along to. The 'ooh's are as much a part of the song as the words around it and to strip it down into a minor key dirge reveals that not only does the Emperor have no clothes, he wasn't even a proper Emperor in the first place.
'Hand On Your Heart' is one of the weaker songs to emerge from the 'Hit Factory', and it's one of the runts of the litter that was handed to Minogue. The fact it got to number one is doubtless more to do with the fact that it was the lead-off single from her (then) forthcoming album that it's own inherent quality. Because quality is one thing in short supply with this effort. A fact that, to my mind, is no better illustrated by the failure of Gonzales to wring anything out of it, and I'm afraid no amount of window dressing (or undressing) is ever going to change that.