Olly Murs has more than made it. Supporting Robbie Williams and previous studio album Right Place Right Time have resulted in Murs being able to fill arenas on his own headline tour last year.
Fourth studio album Never Been Better drops amidst the former X Factor contestant’s growing popularity. Although frequent collaborator Steve Robson is behind several tracks, other musicians like production team TMS and even The Jam/The Style Council frontman Paul Weller also feature.
Did You Miss Me? continues Murs’ affinity for funky retro sounds. It’s a quirky mix of 1980s video game synths, swinging brass and disposable drum machines that straddles the line between throwaway and light-hearted.
The Steve Robson-produced material clearly shows Murs in his element. Lead single Wrapped Up is already a UK Top 5 hit, despite (or because of) an infectious groove that is reminiscent of France’s hilariously awful Eurovision 2014 entry Moustache and Bruno Mars’ modern retro pop fan favourite Treasure. It’s hard not to imagine disco lights and roller skates, and also not get up and dance to this bop. Meanwhile, Murs’ earnest swagger makes Travie McCoy’s rap redundant. Work on a faithful cover of Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove for the recent BBC Radio 2 compilation Sounds of the 80s (reviewed by tours truly) has clearly inspired Murs on the smooth Can’t Say No. The descending bass and irresistible funk suggest other influences too, especially disco classics like Cheryl Lynn’s Got to Be Real and Diana Ross’ Upside Down.
Robson also worked on Hope You Got What You Came For, an emotional orchestral pop piano ballad and a classy tale of reconciliation. The processed vocal harmonies in the final 20 seconds are particularly devastating. However, Beautiful To Me is too middle-of-the road and straight-forward, and its rather bland chorus sounds nothing new.
Seasons may be produced by pop producing maestro Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. This track does recall a bit too much of Jason Mraz, from the laidback guitar strumming and eventual appearance of drums to the ‘you know I’m yours yours yours with every season’ hook. Nevertheless, it cleverly contrasts the tense electronic musical backing against the more positive lyrics about attachment.
English songwriting and record production team TMS take the brave decision to expose more of Murs’ voice on Nothing Without You. Why Do I Love You provides some pop edge with its murky synth bass and guitar wails. It has one of the best choruses on the album. The light rumbling percussion in the background even makes the track sound like a response to Beyonce’s Why Don’t You Love Me?
Murs’ country-tinged efforts are well-executed too. Stick With Me (co-written by John Newman, evokes the folksy, electronic euphoria of tracks like Wake Me Up with its bright brass riff; imagine if Calvin Harris did a remix of this! There is clear musical chemistry between Murs and guest vocalist Demi Lovato on the light country pop duet Up. The collaboration with Paul Weller Let Me In is a poignant closer to the album, making it perfect for falling asleep by the fire to.
Olly Murs is slowly cementing his sound on this important fourth album. There are moments where he plays it a bit too safe, particularly on some of the softer songs and deluxe edition bonus tracks. However, Murs is on the right track.