The difficult second album is perhaps more difficult for a reality pop star than anyone else. It's almost a guarantee that no matter what the quality, any debut album from an artist who's had a captive audience of millions of viewers every Saturday night will sell by the bucketload. Even the long-forgotten Steve Brookstein and Journey South have had number one albums. But it's what you do after, without the constant mass exposure, that can determine career longevity. Pop Idol winner Will Young was lucky in the respect that his debut, From Now On, gave him a relatively strong platform to launch from. Not as rush-released as Popstars Hear'Say's first effort, and with the likes of Burt Bacharach and Cathy Dennis on board, it was a well-produced if sometimes unimaginative collection of songs that justified his position as one of Britain's most popular singers. But with a determination not to be pigeonholed by Simon Cowell, Young has made the brave decision to move away from pop's most influential man for follow-up Friday's Child. So this time round, there are no duets with Gareth Gates, no big power ballads, and certainly no Westlife cover versions. Instead, it's a much more personal affair that showcases both his songwriting talent (Young receives co-writing credits on six of the eleven tracks here) and his undoubtedly unique soulful tones. Lead single "Leave Right Now" is already considered a modern classic, its gentle acoustic verses, impassioned chorus, and sweeping strings are about a million miles away from his inherently corny debut single "Evergreen." It's a statement of intent that confirms his decision to do things his own way has most definitely paid off. With the help of writers Karen Poole, Eg White, and Steve Lipson, the majority of Friday's Child is just as convincing. "Your Game," a Best British Single winner at the 2005 Brits, recalls the '80s soul-pop of the Blow Monkeys thanks to its gospel choir and funky basslines; "Dance the Night Away" and "Out of My Mind" are reminiscent of Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, and "Love the One You're With," the only cover on the album, is an uplifting rendition of the Stephen Stills folk classic. Best of all is the epic seven-minute long title track, a jazz-influenced chill-out number which sounds like the missing link between the Lighthouse Family and Groove Armada. While certainly far more adventurous than his debut, it still sometimes lapses into MOR territory, particularly on the Simply Red-esque "Free" and the rather aimless and ultimately quite drab acoustic ballad "Very Kind." But overall, Friday's Child will undoubtedly bury the reality pop tag once and for all. Britain's first Pop Idol has become an artist in his own right and the fact he's done it without the Cowell juggernaut behind him should make its success even sweeter.
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