I can say without any trace of snark or irony that to this day I will stop whatever I’m doing and start dancing like a moron (the only way I know how) any time Right Said Fred’s early ’90s mega-hit, “I’m Too Sexy,” starts blaring at me.
For three weeks in early 1992 a lot of my fellow Americans felt the same way, as the track knocked George Michael and Elton John’s super-earnest duet rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” from the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in the U.S. and stayed there for three weeks.
On the strength of “I’m Too Sexy” alone — the follow-up American single, “Don’t Talk Just Kiss,” peaked at #76 — the group’s debut album, Up, was certified at 2X platinum in America. This at a time when R&B, hip hop, and grunge were dominating the stateside music scene.
And after that? Well, Right Said Fred took their place as one of many unlikely popular bands to disappear from the American music scene but still enjoy a successful career in Europe.
Of course these days “I’m Too Sexy” is shorthand for “guilty pleasure,” and most of the people who loved it so much nearly 20 years ago scoff at it now. Oh sure, we point and laugh when the video — in all its bare-chested and chiseled ab glory — shows up on one of VH-1’s incessant countdown specials, but deep down we know the laughter is hollow. Secretly we’re loving every minute of it, and at the same time longing for an America where we can enjoy songs like this without fear of judgment.
Or is it just me?
Anyway, there are nine other tracks on Up that aren’t called “I’m Too Sexy,” so let’s chat about them now.
Up kicks off in unexpected fashion, with Richard Fairbrass in full lounge singer mode singing over the piano intro to “Love for All Seasons.” But the canned dance beat kicks in shortly enough and it becomes a serviceable dance-pop number. Songs like this and the next one — “No One on Earth” — are clearly meant for a club setting, not for close listening with headphones. The beat is king here, not Fairbrass’s adequate vocals or the group’s deep lyrics. That said, Phil Spalding‘s bass guitar is worth hearing on most of the album.
For some odd reason the drum sound on “Do Ya Feel” reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” That’s right, I just compared Right Said Fred to Led Zeppelin. Anyway, I guess this arrangement on this song is meant to convey some kind of sexy attitude, but I’m not buying it (even with awesomely subtle lyrics like, “Half the world blows and half the world sucks”). Like much of Up, it’s ultimately a little too musically antiseptic. But it’s still more enjoyable than “Is It True,” which is nice but just kind of chugs along for five minutes with no real purpose. I wasn’t really feeling this one, and that horribly dated production did not help matters at all.
There were two other hit songs from Up (just not in the U.S.) — “Deeply Dippy” and “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” — which hit #1 and #3 in the U.K., respectively. “Deeply Dippy” sounds like one of Paul McCartney’s lesser solo or Wings numbers, and then that funky horn section kicks in. This is relatively organic-sounding and unfussy compared to the rest of Up, and it’s definitely an album highlight. Perhaps it would have been even better with a real singer.
“Don’t Talk Just Kiss” was an obvious choice as the follow-up single to “I’m Too Sexy,” and in fact did chart in America (#76). It employs some of the same percussion samples as the latter and sports an identical beat. It also has an actual melody in the chorus (which now reminds me too much of “My Heart Will Go On” for my comfort) but lacks the spark and fun of “I’m Too Sexy.” And holy crap are those faux-soul background vocal growls irritating.
Sandwiched between “Deeply Dippy” and “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” is “Swan,” which is a pop song that wants to be a dance song, and in the end isn’t very strong example of either. The same can’t be said for the two closing songs, “Upon My Heart” and “Those Simple Things.” The group plays it totally straightforward on these two tracks and delivers a couple of pretty damn good pop numbers.
Maybe in the Bizarro world Right Said Fred is more of an alternative pop/rock act and doesn’t bother with disposable dance music. Maybe in that world, Up takes its place in the world of accessible and memorable early ’90s pop music and isn’t just home to an enjoyable one-hit wonder. I’d like to hear that album.