He Sings It Best When …
This is Alison Krauss. This is Ronan Keating.
I am a capitalist. If people want to buy Ronan Keating’s records, they must be allowed to do so. I imagine his UK sales far outstrip those of Alison Krauss and Union Station. So be it.
Normally I can’t stand it when people moan about the popularity of inferior art. First of all, it’s not always inferior (if you think you can write a best selling novel or pop song or a box office smashing film script just like that, you go ahead). Second of all, I think it’s far healthier to concentrate on art that one does like. I think that I am, and that many of the comics I’ve met on the circuit are, funnier than several mainstream comedians. I don’t choose to bleat about it because I’m really not that bothered. And thirdly, it is increasingly easy – not least with the Internet – to search out good stuff. You don’t have to listen to Radio One (but you do have to pay for it if you own a television in this country).
Yet I do find it depressing, and not a little vulgar, that what can only be described as objectively inferior material achieves such popularity. According to wikipedia, When You Say Nothing At All was written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, and first released in 1988 by the late Keith Whitley.
The Alison Krauss cover of this song (which song I had dismissed as insipid tat having only heard Keating warbling it) is gorgeous. She has a voice that is at once amazing and simple. She is backed by a group of superb musicians. The lyrics come alive.
By contrast, the Ronan Keating version is devoid of beauty, and the stuff of nightmares. His vocals are tortured (and not a little torturous). Singing in that strangled unnatural way is unacceptable in the lead singer of a fourth form rock band. In a grown man it is a hanging offence. The instruments (or computers) accompanying him produce an utterly soulless, disposable noise, and the way the backing singers breathlessly echo him makes me want to go on a sword rampage. Listening to the song in its entirety is an endurance feat worthy of a marathon runner.
Keating even has the temerity to alter the lyrics:
Old Mr. Webster
Could never define
What’s being said
Heart and mine
Try as they may
They can never define
I can scarcely articulate how hateful I find this. The proper version is romantic and delightful. The bastardised version is, well, bastard, bastard, bastard, BASTARD.
Webster’s Dictionary may not be very well known in this country, but one of the joys of an interesting lyric is trying to work out what it means (or sometimes placing one’s own meaning on it). And if one doesn’t understand something, one can always – gasp – DO SOME RESEARCH.
I suppose it is achingly post modern that Keating and his advisers felt that a reference to a reference book was too esoteric for a pop song. But it is not agreeably post modern.
I would worry that criticising an artist is bad karma. But then again, I’m not a f-king communist. I also feel a little guilty as Ronan Keating gives every impression of being a thoroughly nice guy.
But there you go.