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Simon Webbe - Sanctuary

2006-03-30 12:24

What's more, unlike the preening airheads that dominate most boy bands, Webbe has managed to prove himself as a songwriter, penning several of Blue's biggest hits. His debut album Sanctuary, has already sold nearly half a millions units in the UK.

But how much of this success is due to clever marketing, good production and delicious good looks, and how much to raw talent? There's no doubt the man can sing. His range and control, while not mind-blowing, still put him well ahead of most other pop singers. He also has a very good grasp of how to tone down any sharp edges into a silky smooth vocal delivery that is extremely easy on the ear.

The problem is that Webbe's work may be a little too easy on the ear. The tracks on Sanctuary are, without exception, pleasant, comforting and safe. Whether he's singing about true love, loss or jealousy, Simon is always more intent on pleasing his listener and sounding good than on expressing any particular emotion. The production on Sanctuary - predominantly handled by Webbe's friend Matt Prime - is equally slick and equally safe, exploiting twinkly guitar riffs and bouncy backing tunes without ever straying anywhere dark or daring.

While there's nothing wrong with playing it safe, you have to wonder what someone with Webbe's voice might be capable of if he cut loose a little more. The same is true of his song writing. He has a talent for crafting songs with the visceral appeal that makes pop music so successful. He also knows how to write tunes that showcase his voice. But, again, he is more concerned with pleasing than challenging, and the music suffers as a result.

On the other hand, Sanctuary shows an unexpected and often delightful willingness to experiment with styles and forms. From R&B, to country and western, to honky-tonk blues, to adult contemporary, Webbe's debut album flits between genres with scant regard for convention. Though Webbe has already christened his "sound" with the ridiculous label "urban folk", he is clearly still trying to figure out just what that sound actually is. At times his experimentation can be annoying (like the pseudo-African "Star") - but it shows a lot more daring and openness than most pop stars.

Still, no matter what "sound" he settles on, Webbe is never really going to touch people unless he starts really meaning what he is singing. The niche in which he is competing - smooth soulful singers - is already dominated by giants like Seal and Lighthouse Family. If Webbe is going to succeed in the long run - not to mention attract the critical acclaim he is so obviously courting - he needs to offer us something different, or something better.

- Alistair Fairweather


"His primary talent is sounding heartfelt, no matter how trite the subject; he could soon be giving Seal a run for his money."
- Caroline Sullivan, The Guardian

"It could have been worse from a former boy band member - but Webbe has produced a debut not to be scoffed at."
- Karen Whitty,

You'd be forgiven for thinking 26-year-old Simon Webbe has, so far, led a charmed life. As one quarter of British boy band Blue he has already enjoyed the success of three platinum selling albums, and scored several high profile modelling contracts.

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