There’s a trope – more apocryphal than actually seen, these days – of the serious songwriter who dismisses the crap in the charts as mere formula and hints that, were they so minded, they could churn out a hit to order too. Fortunately they have better things to do than write music they think is awful.

Not all songwriters are so selfless. Daniel Bedingfield, for instance, shut himself away with some Westlife records, figuring the path to success lay in making music he detested. Having found that making music he liked worked just as well, it’s a shame he didn’t drop the idea. Still, he was right – his calculated attempt at a pop ballad really did sell.

The curious thing about “If You’re Not The One” is that, even though it’s imitating a dreary formula, it’s actually more interesting than any Westlife records, pushing towards a level of self-doubt and self-abasement never touched by its models. That’s on Bedingfield himself, who may have the songwriting moves down but whose performance is starker and needier than the massed vocal approach the Irish boy bands use. Daniel Bedingfield doesn’t have his friends at his back, or Simon Cowell, or Cheiron, or anyone – he sounds lost and quavering, a loner trying on styles for size. Which suits the song’s reaching back into the swamp of uncertainty Bedingfield dredged “Gotta Get Through This” up from. Westlife have had their bleak moments, but they’ve never tried a lyric like “why does this distance maim my life?”.

The issue – and it’s not a problem Westlife’s banks of songwriters would have let slip through – is that this desperation never really resolves. There’s a reason, it turns out, why pop ballads rely so heavily on a big key change – it provides a kind of solution to whatever emotional dilemma the song is setting up. In this way, every Westlife track has a happy ending no matter what its lyrics do. “If You’re Not The One” doesn’t allow itself one, instead following its semi-resolution (the “You know my heart is by your side” bit) with a further plunge into doubt. It means the record trails off rather ineffectually. In the end, maybe Bedingfield had too much integrity to let himself go all-in on the gloop – but on the terms he’s working under, that turns out to be no virtue.

Score: 4

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