Will Young, whether he or anyone else realizes it or not, is one of the chief architects of modern pop music.
It was his 2001 win of UK music competition Pop Idol that kicked off a global phenomenon that birthed the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, Fifth Harmony and plenty others. His subsequent coming out as gay laid a path for other queer artists, like Sam Smith and Years & Years, to follow and build out further. In the fleeting era of streaming, he has endured in ways that many artists would dream to have: despite the flop of its lead single “Love Revolution”, his last album 85% Proof debuted at #1 on the UK charts (presumably driven by the increasingly elusive album purchase).
Young’s newest album Lexicon can be seen as an acknowledgement of both his remarkable staying power and his need to return to what last worked best. That was 2011’s Echoes, home of his last top-ten chart hit, the stunning synth gem “Jealousy”. Richard X’s return to the mixing board also promises the return of that album’s incredibly successful elegant electropop, and Lexicon delivers it in spades. The eight years since their last collaboration hasn’t dulled the magic they create together; if anything, it’s only improved. It’s noticeable from the first cut and single “All the Songs”, which overlays a thumping beat over haunting synths to evoke the song’s feeling of insistent and inescapable lost love. It’s not groundbreaking material for him or pop: Sam Smith has ridden that train to sold-out stadiums across the globe, and Robyn has turned it into an art form. But Young’s performance feels especially effortless, as if this slice of the pop pie is just tablestakes for him.
The heartbreak disco doesn’t end there: Lexicon shimmers with danceable romance and fantastical balladry, all stunningly realized by Richard X’s production and Will Young’s stunning vocals. “My Love” kicks the tempo up a notch, as Young aims to prove to his lover that he’s ready to settle down against a synth-funk backdrop. “Dreaming Big” lives up to its name, rendering a dreamy soundscape for lyrics about the pain of unrequited, unspoken love. Album highlight “Forever” is hazy and dark electro seduction that blooms into a beautifully exuberant piano-led chorus, powered by Young’s soft and downright angelic falsetto, as is the emotional ballad of passionate yearning “Freedom”.
Eighteen years after he charmed a nation, Will Young himself is still the top draw. His voice lends itself well to Richard X’s electropop, like the warm mid tempo ballad “Scars”, but Young isn’t complacent, and Richard gives him a varied array of sounds to play with and against. Young offers his own take on Ed Sheeran with the hip “Ground Running”, while “Say Anything” is an adult approximation of Years & Years, both deceptively relaxed and decidedly rhythmic. “Faithless Love” references Young’s own underrated “Grace” from 2008’s Let It Go, with a grown-up swagger that’s more memorable than the song itself. Whatever Lexicon throws at him, Young handles with his trademark grace and the confidence that comes with nearly two decades as one of pop’s best male voices.
He carries that responsibility well, as Lexicon is an incredibly well-crafted, expertly produced and excellently sung record. It’s a re-affirmation of Will Young’s understated and undervalued role in British pop. “All the Songs” and “Forever” should be all over radio and streaming playlists, and the fact they have been largely ignored is infuriating. It’s not much of a consolation, but at least Lexicon further solidifies Young’s legacy as one of Britain’s most enduring talents.
Stream These: “All the Songs”; “Forever”; “Dreaming Big”; “Freedom”
Skip These: “The Way We Were”