Gilbert's skill was using humour and the sweetest melodies to make us swallow the...
Chris Jones 2004
Perspective, it seems, is everything. Those of a certain age will probablyremember Gilbert O'Sullivan as a flat cap-wearing, piano ballad merchant whose introspective sub-McCartney songs grew ever more mawkish as his success grew. Worst of these crimes would have to be the sickly ode to his manager/svengali Gordon Mills' daughter, ''Clair'' with its cute pay-off. It was the utter antithesis of all the hairy, serious things going on at the time. In other words; pure pop. But wait! Suddenly a box set of the man's work is issued, Harry Hill's appearing in his videos and EMI come up with this little gem to remind us why the former Raymond O'Sullivan was actually accepted into the nation's heart in the first place. Believe it or not, Gilbert's cool...
Yes, perspective really does make the difference. After 10 years of post-Spice girls chart contrivance could you imagine someone getting to #3 with a song that opens with the singer about to commit suicide and ends with him musing on the death of his father and mother (''Alone Again (Naturally)'')? It sounds sickly and self-indulgent, but Gilbert's skill was using humour and the sweetest melodies to make us swallow the bitterest pills. Don't fool yourself; this really is existentialism for all.
His chart debut on Mills' MAM label, ''Nothing Rhymed'' (1970) is, to this day, an extraordinary coagulation of self pity, self doubt and a heartbreaking need for reassurance. Unfortunately it came with the famed 'Bisto' Kid image (hastily shed after a year or so) and was bound for the box marked 'gimmick'. Yet time and again over the next three years O'Sullivan wrought his considerable charm on a string of hits that ranged from sad (''Nothing Rhymed'', ''Alone Again (Naturally)'') through sweet (''We Will'', ''Clair'' -Gilbert seemed to virtually invent a new genre: babysitting ballads!) to downright silly (''Get Down'', ''Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day''). Each was a nugget of three-minute perfection and, if modern ears may find them cloyingly embarrassing in their frank expression of sentiment, surely that's the sad result of post modern cynicism and no fault of Gilbert's?
For a brief spell O'Sullivan commanded respect on both sides of the Atlantic and looked set to beat Elton John at his own game. Later, lesser hits bear witness that, with less of the business strife that blighted his split from Mills, he may well have held onto that crown.Now hindsight allows us to admit him (and his trademark red 'G' sweater) back into our hearts. Go on...you won't regret it.