Four-piece boy band Blue started out with the intentions of becoming the U.K.'s answer to slick R&B vocal groups like Next and Dru Hill, but ended up more like the male version of Atomic Kitten. Six months after announcing their split, their most vocal member, both in and outside the band, Lee Ryan, becomes their first to launch a solo career, hoping to claw back some of the fan base they lost with their later bland and derivative output. His self-titled debut album, recorded with the likes of Cutfather & Joe and Wayne Hector & Steve Mac, suggests that the tinny mobile ringtone-led "Curtain Falls" and the karaoke cover of Kool & the Gang's "Get Down on It," Blue's two final singles, are a thing of the past. The first two singles, "Army of Lovers," a lightly strummed wistfully romantic love song full of chiming guitars, and "Turn Your Car Around," a brooding slice of radio-friendly driving soft rock with a slight flamenco feel, echo the mellow acoustic pop of Robbie Williams' Escapology, as do the mature "Daydreamer" and the piano-driven "Wish the Whole World Knew." However, Blue's previous collaboration with Stevie Wonder and Angie Stone appears to have given Ryan some ideas, as the other half of his first effort opts for a classic neo-soul-influenced sound, as evident on the slinky brass-led "When I Think of You," the funky Maxwell-esque Ice Age soundtrack number "Real Love," and the O'Jays-style harmonies of "Miss My Everything." It might have taken four albums, but Ryan also finally seems to have learned that sometimes less is more, with the former overbearing vocal histrionics -- which made him sound like he was being tortured -- thankfully toned down in favor of a more subtle, emotive, and soulful manner that allows his undeniable talents to be more warmly appreciated. The album's final two tracks, "How Do I?" and "In the Morning," are typical overly earnest boy band ballads, and lyrically, Ryan hasn't really progressed beyond the "moon in June" school of writing. But having abandoned any notions of competing with his U.S. contemporaries, Ryan has produced a surprisingly sophisticated and authentic debut that -- if he can keep his outspoken opinions to a minimum -- should allow the music to do the talking.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien