Buy Here | Listen Below
In a 2015 Digital Spy interview, British vocalist and songwriter Will Young opined about his album set to release the following day, 85% Proof, “It is quite an eclectic record. It’s so hard to describe stuff that I’ve done, because…there wasn’t, “I’m going to write a song, and this is going to be a (Bob) Dylan-esque song.” It’s literally just, “Okay, let’s write this song.”
A modest performer on the charts and with critics, the stylishly scattered 85% Proof wouldn’t overtake its predecessor Echoes (2011), the project that took Young from being an accomplished post-Pop Idol victor to a George Michael tier talent. An extended play—Summer Covers—appeared one year after 85% Proof, but with the singer-songwriter sourcing from the canons of established recording acts, it suggested Young might have hit a creative impasse.
It was much more than that.
In the past, Young had spoken openly about his mental health challenges. But nothing could have prepared him for the severity of the issues he encountered after the unveiling of Echoes up through 85% Proof. Understandably, Young would take time away from music in the second half of 2016 to engage in self-care and pursue other interests. His sabbatical gave him a newfound appreciation for his craft and that outlook informs Lexicon, Young’s seventh album and inaugural collection on the Cooking Vinyl imprint.
New friends and familiar faces rallied at the ready for Young when he reached out to them in the spirit of collaboration for Lexicon. But, out of this decent-sized pool of writers and producers, it’s the familiar faction that’s key to everything that works here—Richard X, Francis “Eg” White, Jim Eliot and Mima Stilwell. From Friday’s Child (2003) onward to 85% Proof, all of these individuals helped to shape those LPs in major and minor ways. With Young calling them back into the fold, it demonstrates an awareness of his strengths and who can best assist him in erecting the right stage for them to shine on.
Unlike the splintered sonic tonality of 85% Proof, Lexicon returns Young to the uniform electronic pop approach of Echoes. Entries like “All the Songs,” “My Love,” “Forever” and “Say Anything” find Young embracing the adult dance-pop that drove Echoes to commercial and critical prestige. However, for those only taking a cursory preview of these tracks, one might mistake Young’s affection for this aesthetic as either a repeat performance (at best) or a post-85% Proof retreat (at worst). Thankfully, neither of those assumptions are correct and it erroneously excludes the other solid eight sides on Lexicon too.
It is true that Young does utilize a broad electro-pop mood for the overhead of Lexicon, this is done in the interest of focusing the man behind the tracks. It’s also only one part of a larger musical equation for him at work on the long player. In fact, Young’s singing lends a human touch to certain glassy structures on Lexicon, particularly “All the Songs” and “My Love.” This illustrates how the intent of the production on these selections and the precise application of his voice against them can create a little bit of a new aural sensation.
Underneath the other coruscating electronics of Lexicon are arrangements that bear pronounced traces of guitar-pop (“Ground Running”) and rhythm and blues (“Faithless Love”) for the sake of variety. Curiously—and in a pleasantly subversive manner—Young extrapolates on the latter genre by demurely fusing light R&B grooves to pop melodies as heard on the blue-eyed soul showcase of “Freedom.”
As it pertains to Young as an unconsciously soulful presence as a singer, he pairs his vocal instrument to these song scripts flawlessly. He relinquishes some of his writing autonomy on this effort—he co-pens four of the twelve sides featured—with “Scars” as a highlight. His action doesn’t denote artistic weakness, rather it displays his willingness to rope in the finest cuts possible.
The writers onboarded to draft stories for Lexicon center them on love—some of them analogous for wider life situations—that Young interprets convincingly as seen on the record’s gorgeous closer, “The Way We Were.” When Young sings, “Raindrops, non-stop / made for blind spots / just don't forget about us / streetlights, red eyes / one chance, crunch time / ain’t no way I'm giving you up,” it comes from a place within a man of experience. It’s a grown-up outlook that suffuses Lexicon in its entirety.
Loosely defined as a sort of glossary for exceptional language or knowledge, it was wise for Will Young to elect “lexicon” as a designation for an album that manages to look back while moving forward with mature, compellingly rendered pop pieces.
Notable Tracks: "All The Songs" | “Freedom” | "Ground Running" | “The Way We Were”