From the ashes of London neo-soulsters the Q-Tips emerged Paul Young, whose smoky voice, singing a mixture of classics and originals, quickly put him in the British, and later, American charts. The choice of songs on No Parlez ranges from the prudent (“Love of the Common People,” “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home),” both of which are magnificent) to the surreal (Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which Young slowly mangles beyond recognition). A few of the new compositions are swell as well. The Royal Family (his band) and the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts (singers) supply sympathetic backing; Laurie Latham’s wide-screen production is appropriately lush but never abandons the rock basis that anchored classic Motown records of the ’60s. Young’s first solo outing is promising: a solid pop album by an especially good singer.
The Secret of Association, Young’s follow-up as a big star, shows a far more judicious selection process at work, resulting in an exquisite collection that mixes appropriate covers with originals he co-wrote. Items like “Bite the Hand That Feeds,” “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” and especially Daryl Hall’s “Everytime You Go Away” showcase Young’s carefully controlled vocals and Latham’s exceptionally subtle production. Each clearly articulated sound functions perfectly in the arrangements, resulting in seamless, emotionally resonant pop-soul creations.
Parting company with Latham, an increasingly self-confident Young co-wrote most of the songs and co-produced Between Two Fires with Hugh Padgham and keyboardist Ian Kewley. Although lacking the finely honed impact of The Secret of Association, a few tracks (e.g., “Wonderland,” “A Certain Passion,” “Some People”) and the generally high level of appealing quality prove that — in this case, at least — it’s possible to tamper with success and not upset the apple cart.
Between Two Fires wasn’t a big commercial success in the US, so he reversed the formula for Other Voices. Instead of one production team, there are four different producers. Instead of Young co-writing all but two of the songs, he co-wrote three and used covers for the rest. The result is Young’s most polished, least cohesive and, oddly, most experimental album, since the producers seem willing to try almost anything to get him a hit. While that mostly means smothering him in an adult-pop sheen or a wash of programmed rhythms, it also leaves the door open for a jazzy duet with Chaka Khan, a fast-rockin’ stab at Free’s “A Little Bit of Love” (he murders it) and a beautiful reading of the Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl” — the album’s most basic and least-produced track — which became a hit. If any lesson was learned from all this, it should bode well for Young’s next album. Forget the layers of extraneous production and let the guy sing.
The cassette-only EP contains 12-inch mixes of five singles, including “Wherever I Lay My Hat,” “Love of the Common People” and “Everytime You Go Away.”