Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx once referred to his duo’s music as “punk garage,” but what British singer Daniel Bedingfield seems to want to know—besides whether you miss him, whether you’re doing anything tonight, and what’s the point now—is what arena-garage might sound like. That’s pretty much the way his “James Dean (I Wanna Know)” comes across: The beat’s in the same vicinity as the 2step garage of “Gotta Get Thru This,” the single that made Bedingfield’s name, as are the pizzicato keyboard boops and sci-fi synth zooms. Cunning and memorable as, say, Artful Dodger’s “Re-Rewind” or Craig David’s “Fill Me In” were, they were also subtle, their choruses as buttery and approachable as their verses. But Bedingfield’s delivery is guttural and forceful, like he’s aiming his voice at the stadium walls. The song’s not just full of hubris sonically, either; not only does Bedingfield compare himself to Dean and Sly Stone and Daddy Warbucks (Danny-Boy and Toby “Who’s Your Daddy?” Keith ought to get in Keith’s big ol’ yellow Range Rover and get chicken dinner sometime), he’s doing so on the strength of one fucking hit—you know, like when the Backstreet Boys announced “Oh my god, we’re back again” without even telling us where they were back from.
Peter Baran of the New York London Paris Munich weblog calls Bedingfield “the white Craig David”—echoing the sentiments of greater Britain, I’m sure—and a lot of Gotta Get Thru This, Bedingfield’s debut album, is obviously modeled on David’s Born to Do It, even down to the similar titles. But “James Dean” also reminds me of George Michael’s early solo work—particularly the expectorating noises. Michael himself has been gravitating toward a pop-industrial sound: In his recent single “Freeek!” he essentially has a go at rewriting Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”—why not, it’s as elementary a template as “Louie Louie.” Too bad it pales in comparison to the Sugababes’ “Freak Like Me,” itself a remake of a mash-up bootleg that puts Adina Howard over Tubeway Army’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” George’s summer release “Shoot the Dog” was essentially Human League’s “Love Action” with new, would-be controversial lyrics about Dubya and Blair shacking up.
Given Michael’s blue-eyed-soul history, why hasn’t he tried 2step? Maybe for the same reason that Bedingfield seems to be driving away from the garage. “Gotta Get Thru This” on its own is ace confectionery from 2step’s diminishing serotonin supply; the style is already starting to sound dated, even to Yank ears. So maybe the big-pop feel of “James Dean” will portend something else. Either way, Gotta Get Thru This‘s filler might as well cruise Sixth Avenue wearing a sandwich board announcing itself as such. As you’d guess, that means the slow ones, particularly during the disc’s second half; the back-to-back “Girlfriend” and “Without the Girl” mainly prove that Bedingfield is no Babyface. Which is fine—neither is Babyface most of the time. But the Brit does come close when he reprises “Gotta Get Thru This” with just an acoustic guitar. He’ll probably have to wait a few years before Eric Clapton returns his calls, though. Maybe the kid should phone a different father figure—one who knows how to juice his electro-pop with a hollow-bodied Martin.