Blue’s last Number One, and any wisps of street credibility which might have still clung to them melt away. Don’t be fooled by the off-the-peg R&B shuffle in the best: just as much as Bedingfield’s effort, this is a cynical push into Westlife territory. More cynical, even – while “If You’re Not The One” had its writer’s formalist curiosity to excuse it, “Sorry” can’t pretend to be anything more than a cross-generational Christmas cash grab.

Perhaps some small degree of respectability accrues to it from Elton’s own involvement? Elton John is a famously enthusiastic and generous collaborator – it’s one of the most endearing things about him, this desire to keep up, join in and just see what happens when musicians meet. But inevitably this approach doesn’t guarantee quality – Elton tackles his lines here with gruff gusto but you imagine the track left his mind pretty soon after the studio door closed behind him. Blue beat their chests and dab ineffectively at the song and don’t leave a mark on it: they scatter a few ad libs around Elton’s vocals to remind us (then and now) that this is 2002.

“Sorry” for me isn’t prime Elton John in any case – from the tail end of his US Imperial Phase, it’s a morose picture of a gummed-up relationship which seems to reflect the stasis of its subject. I can see why soul singers have been drawn to it – it’s melodically strong with lots of introspective wiggle room – but I find it flat. The most alive moment in this version is the uncredited harmonica solo, a few seconds of lament that cuts through the vocals and lets the track end with dignity.

Blue grooved gamely on for the regulation third album before splitting (they’ve had an unusually prolonged afterlife, including a stab at Eurovision). Their departure, though, is the end for now of a long-running strand in British pop – the attempt to come to terms with hip-hop and R&B by chucking boy bands at it. East 17, 911, Let Loose, 5ive, Blue – a decade of lads throwing shapes, rapping badly, and generally operating in the grand British tradition of being a faintly rubbishy version of what the Americans were doing. Just as in the 50s, singular visions (East 17) or sheer jauntiness (Five) could turn this ersatz approach into an advantage. But those moments were rare. Blue’s best single – the Notorious BIG sampling “Fly By II”, a few months before this – shows how unsustainable the urban boyband style was. It’s deliciously catchy but its “got the city on lockdown” fronting is all too easy to mock. The appeal of borrowed moves was ebbing, leaving a need for British pop so find some of its own – a need about to be met in the most unexpected of ways.

Score: 3

[Logged in users can award their own score]