Eg White, the songwriter on “Leave Right Now”, had an intriguing half-career out in the far suburbs of British pop. His album as part of Eg And Alice, 24 Years Of Hunger, has quietly acquired cult status; it’s sophisticated but erratic. Like Daniel Bedingfield, White was a young songwriter trying on his inspirations for size (at one point there’s an unexpected but exciting stab at Remain In Light era David Byrne). Released into a world too earthy and raucous for it, it made no impression – I remember the cassette of it in Our Price sale after sale, forever ignored.

And here White is, winning an Ivor Novello for Will Young’s successful tilt at establishing a career for himself. Talent will out? Maybe, but his story also illustrates how capricious the industry is at rewarding it – what twist of luck makes one awkward bedroom pop act a minor sensation and confines another to the backroom? Come to think of it, what grants one reality TV winner a career as a singer and another a career as a pub quiz answer?

Talented, earnest and likeable, and early enough in the Reality Pop era to still be a novelty, Will Young had a lot of people on his side. The fact he beat what we now know are fearsome odds to have a strong run of as a TV show winner is impressive, but at the time “Leave Right Now” seemed to promise a lot more. 

As a song it’s marvellously suited to its singer – it balances the side of Young which won him Pop Idol (a belting chorus) and the side where his genuine talents lay, the rueful, thoughtful readings he gives the verses. It has the conversational air of some George Michael tracks – “A Different Corner”, for instance – and the comparison hung in the air.

But Will Young is, it turns out, no George Michael, and I doubt he’d want to be, since the biggest point of difference is Michael’s painful articulation of restless unhappiness and self-doubt. “Leave Right Now” shows Young’s strengths and his limits – it’s a song about learning, moving on and refusing to have a settled life disrupted. What makes it different from most “I should leave” songs is that it sounds – to me – like Young actually is going to leave. While the song leaves the outcome ambiguous, most of the emotional oomph in Young’s delivery comes on the break when he’s regretfully explaining that no, this can’t actually work. 

The rarely-kept promise of Reality TV is that it would break pop open and let different kinds of people loose among its glittering machinery. It has, mostly, failed to do this. But with Will Young, that promise was kept in an unexpected way. “If I lose the highs, at least I’m spared the lows”: this is a very relatable sentiment, but it’s also a very unusual one in a pop context, because it’s so regretfully sensible. “Leave Right Now” presents Will Young as a kind of pop centrist, an emotional moderate in a landscape of rampant affect. That charming reasonableness is part of why he won, and “Leave Right Now” sets out a way of building a career from it.

Score: 7

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