Review: Never Been Better - Olly Murs
Olly Murs is here to stay; he now has four albums under his belt and a large, committed fanbase.
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There has always been doubt over whether X Factor prodigies can truly become fully rounded artists. This may be musical snobbery, but when was the last time anyone heard of Joe McElderry or Alexandra Burke? It would appear though that Olly Murs is here to stay; he now has four albums under his belt and a large and committed fanbase. Unfortunately Never Been Better proves that there is still a great deal lacking. There is no emotional depth; we never move away from tired pop conventions; and Murs’ sickly sweet voice quickly becomes nauseating. It is a catalogue of failure, and leaves no lasting impact after listening.
The major problem on the album is Murs’ voice. There is now doubt that he is a very talented singer; a lot of these songs sound like they would be much more successful with the added spark of live performance. The issue is that his voice is too polished to be distinctive and too assured to register any vulnerability. We are never given a glimpse of the inner Murs, we are just left with a rather superficial performance. With only a few exceptions, his delivery is fairly one-note. The only character he can play is the cheeky chap and confident showman; more emotive songs like ‘Hope You Got What You Came For’ and ‘Tomorrow’ tend to fall a little flat. There is the occasional moment where his voice takes on a more fragile intimacy, usually in the bridge, but the effect is quickly shattered by the return of the brash performer. It is a tangible relief when Demi Lovato takes over as guest vocalist on the choruses of ‘Up’, adding some bite in contrast to Murs’s saccharine verses.
The songwriting is nearly as lamentable as the performance. The instrumentation is often all over the place; on ‘Stick With Me’ the opening guitar is abandoned in favour of synths followed by a violin, which jars distinctly when listening. The choruses are often catchy enough, but in a twee way which is rarely memorable or satisfying. The subject matter of the songs is equally unoriginal. ‘Beautiful to Me’ is effectively a blander rewrite of Bruno Mars’ ‘Just The Way You Are’, and features such clumsy rhyming as ‘don’t ever change the way you are/ you light the sky just like a star’. There are more dubious lyrics on the lustful ‘Can’t Say No’ (the title is disturbing enough!); ‘wanna see that body, body, oh’ is hardly the most creative of erotic verse. The lyrics of the title track are profoundly odd: the central concept seems to be that nobody is allowed to be sad because Olly Murs is in a good mood, and his positivity even seems capable of preventing death.
When looking at the writing credits for the album it seems that behind Olly Murs there is some form of Mowtown-like hit factory. Six out of the thirteen tracks have four or more writers, whilst ‘Nothing Without You’ is truly song-by-committee with seven. Although Murs has writing credits for all but one of the songs, this goes some way to explaining the curiously impersonal nature of many of the tracks. In pop music it is an appropriate maxim that too many cooks spoil the broth, and such an abundance of contributors inevitably leads to blandness.
Although hearing ‘Wrapped Up’ on the radio during a grey December morning may serve to lighten your mood, a whole album of these twee and generic tunes are enough to test anyone’s patience. The fact that Murs has released four albums within five years suggests that he is simply churning out material without any real craft or artistry. There is even an argument to say that his earlier hits such as ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ and ‘Dance With Me Tonight’ were more successful than his recent material. All he has achieved through Never Been Better is to prove the prejudice that former X Factor contestants cannot be classed as serious musicians.