An emotional wreck

Michelle McManus

The Meaning of Love

19/BMG, 13.99

When game Glasgow gal Michelle McManus beat off stiff competition from a non-competitive stiff to take the Pop Idol crown late last year, no-one had seen such an interface of gallus lass, light entertainment TV and music industry machinery since Sheena Easton graduated to The Big Time and popularised the jumpsuit as sophisticated wear for all modern girls.

To the victor the spoils: Christmas dinner had barely been cleared away before McManus became the first Scottish female to debut at No1 (says The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles) with a tuneless dirge called All This Time, in which she informs the doubters (Pop Idol judge Pete Waterman, me, everyone I know, and some distressed dogs) in no uncertain terms that, with a little help from the mysterious "you", she had the confidence to pursue her dreams. It could have been tailorwritten for "plucky" Michelle. Except it wasn’t - the final three survivors recorded the track and filmed the same video.

Let’s get this clear: McManus’s victory was not some triumph of talent over image - the very opposite, in fact. Her size gave her a distinct advantage. On reality TV, the public gravitate to their own reflection. If she was a modelesque girl with as unremarkable a voice, the voting public would not have cared. But she wasn’t and they did, so another chicken-in-a-basket diva was born.

Like all TV talent show winners everywhere, McManus was given the length of time it took to catch her breath to record the material with which she was to burst on to the pop scene - 13 variations on a theme of bland and one dicey cover.

This album, in case anyone had overlooked the banal title assuming it was a Woolies bargain bin job, has been hastily cobbled together, not just because Pop Idol time moves as quickly as a Benny Hill sketch, but because Valentine’s Day is upon us and trillions of husbands and boyfriends will find it necessary to purchase a present for their other halves two days after the event, because their first choice of gift was the wrong size or contained traces of nuts. Then couples can sit down together and ponder the meaning of this cretinous drivel.

The title track follows much the same formula as the single. Plodding verse leads to slightly less plodding chorus as it transpires that, on this occasion, McManus didn’t even have a kernel of self-worth until "you" came along and sorted her out. My non-Valentine interpretation of this lyric is that she is having an affair with her life coach. There are 12 tracks to go - you have to make your own fun.

One technical footnote: it also features a clunking big key change. The keychange is the international plastic pop cue for the listener to stop dozing and the singer to try out some fancy ad-libbing, as long as they have it in them. At this point, Westlife, the masters of the keychange, tend to just apply pressure to their genitals and drag their voices up a bit higher.

Back to the unfolding drama: a mere minute later and McManus’s love has gone belly-up. Say It Isn’t So is one of those Celine Dionesque "eh? you mean I’m chucked?" ballads but, instead of the tremulous Dion warble, we get the reedy McManus keening the platitudes. It’s a terribly quaint number which comes with its own complimentary pseudo-Spanish guitar solo. Sure to be a dinner-dancefloor hit.

Swiftly bypassing Emotional (about feeling "eemoshinul", naturally enough) and some other songs, because they sound like tracks which Atomic Kitten missed while trawling the pop dregs for the contents of their last album, we come to Cast The First Stone, on which McManus gets all Biblical on our asses ("let him without sin, cast the first stone"). But the potential coup of getting Jesus in as a co-writer is scuppered by the philosophical minefield of the rest of the lyrics. In short, I haven’t a clue what this sappy song is about.

Round about now, the listener will be wondering when, for Pete Waterman’s sake, are we ever going to get some of that cheesy, chiming keyboard action, redolent of a 1980s Lionel Richie track or a pre-"streetwise" Whitney ballad? Fortunately, this is soon rectified on One Life, which is another ballad, if anyone is still awake.

Then Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good has the guts ripped out of it, even though by this stage McManus should be feeling thoroughly elated that she has a bearable, let alone classic, song to tackle.

The album nosedives from there. More Than Anything witters on about "miracles" and "angels" before digging a new hole for lyrical depths with the line "I can feel your heartbeat dancing with mine", while Invincible is simply a voyage of awful discovery that listeners will have to undertake for themselves.

Suffice to say, it is a ballad, and it has a key change.