Released: 14th June 1999
Writers: Jewels & Stone
Peak position: #5
Chart run: 5-10-12-15-22-31-42-50-62-64
The path (or in this case, cobbles) from soap star to pop star is one well-trodden. But when Gail Platt’s eldest son chose to jump from Coronation Street to become a fully-fledged chart sensation, few could have predicted it would result in a seminal moment for ‘90s pop music…
Before the release of this behemoth, Adam Rickitt had gained a fervent fanbase thanks to his portrayal of Nick Tilsley in Coronation Street. Soaps in themselves were reasonably prominent in the heartthrob stakes. But it tended to be the more teen-orientated shows like Home & Away and Neighbours that garnered the most attention. Coronation Street wasn’t really on the radar in the teen totty stakes, so in the late ’90s, the producers decided they wanted in on that lucrative market. Without any scruples, they packed the original Nick Tilsley off to Canada in 1996 and brought him back in 1997 with a new face – and a six-pack – played by Adam Rickitt. Now, Manchester is rarely so warm that people frequently walk around semi-naked, but that didn’t stop the new Nick Tilsley from shedding his clothes, and rapidly acquiring a rabid fanbase in the process. Adam Rickitt has more recently shown his acting credentials playing Kyle Kelly in Hollyoaks, so it’s somewhat unfair that nearly all of the hysteria in the ’90s was solely down to his looks.
Nonetheless, in 1999 with Adam Rickitt’s popularity high, there was only one thing for a soap star to do: launch a music career. So, Nick Tilsley disappeared back to Canada, and Polydor was soon banging at the door with a six (!) album record deal. But what sort of sound would Adam Rickitt – who hadn’t honestly shown much interest in launching a music career up until that point – pursue in his quest for chart success? Just a few months earlier, Martine McCutcheon (also seeking to establish herself away from soap as a credible pop artist) had opted for a classy ballad, but Polydor clearly had other ideas. Thus, Adam Rickitt launched his music career with a hi-NRG Eurodance BANGER that was, quite frankly, the absolute tits.
In terms of titillation, I Breathe Again left nothing to chance. Indeed, barely moments after the opening synths, the song turns into full-on aural intercourse as Adam Rickitt groans and moans orgasmically atop a building beat. CPR isn’t usually a particularly sexy topic, but there’s no denying the single manages to imbue the urgency and panic of someone apparently on the verge of respiratory arrest with a high degree of eroticism: “You’re givin’ me life with your mouth to mine”. It’s not just Adam Rickitt puffing and panting that raises the temperature; the composition itself is an energetic, pulsing synth-laden pop track, immediately conjuring images of a sweaty dance floor packed with gyrating bodies.
As ’90s pop songs go, it’s something of a treat to say that it’s almost impossible to pick the best bit. I Breathe Again never fails to delight; and, crucially, doesn’t let up, either. Every element builds on the one before it, contributing to the formation of an absolute behemoth. None more so than the incredible rapid-fire pre-chorus: “I feel my body shake and my heart’s about to fail, a panic attack and I can’t exhale, but baby all I need’s your lovin’ medication”. To this day it’s arguably the finest singalong moment of the whole song and receives a deserved reprise just before the track draws to a finale. Indeed, the final minute of I Breathe Again is where it really soars. Not with a key-change for once, but instead some ample layering of repeated lines from the preceding pre-choruses. Plus, there’s the dramatic: “Breeeathe agaaaain” ad-lib, which comes out of nowhere and sounds ridiculous, albeit in the most fittingly brilliant way.
Indeed, lying at the heart of what makes I Breathe Again such a delight is that it could so easily have been a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of clichéd pop elements, but never once does the track sound glib. Of course, it’s unashamedly calculated to appeal to Adam Rickitt’s core fanbase (girls and gays), but does so with very credible effort.
Nowhere was the marketing strategy for I Breathe Again more evident than the music video, which made no qualms about shamelessly using Adam Rickitt’s most famous asset: his body. While there is an admirable attempt to craft a subversive narrative that documents (and almost celebrates) the calculated manufacturing of a new pop star, what it meant in real terms was simply how naked could Adam Rickitt be and for how long. Cue the iconic sequence of shots featuring him in a glass tank, in the middle of a laboratory completely nude (nothing explicit, obviously). At the same time, the staff go nonchalantly about their business.
The second part of the video features Adam Rickitt undergoing rigorous diagnostic procedures as the baying paparazzi wait at the doors to the lab. The culmination of the video is, therefore, Adam Rickitt being unveiled to the world as cameras flash and people paw (gently) at his semi-naked torso. While the visual treatment is rather postmodern and self-aware, that in itself is somewhat problematic because it reinforces the perception that Adam Rickitt as a pop star is, indeed, built around aesthetic appeal and little else. Even if that’s true, Polydor might have wanted to suggest a bit more substance if they were serious about that six-album deal.
With a fanbase already on board before he’d even uttered a word in the recording studio, chart success was all but assured for Adam Rickitt. And while I Breathe Again didn’t top the chart – instead peaking at #5 – it had been a somewhat unorthodox choice of debut single. Sure, a pleasant ballad may have been a safer choice and possibly a bigger hit, but this was less an exercise in showcasing a singer and much more about creating a pop star. Whether Adam Rickitt could sing was, at this point, largely irrelevant, and I Breathe Again didn’t provide conclusive evidence either way. But as a litmus test for his propensity to function as a pop act, the single was an absolute success. It may not often be celebrated as one of the finest hits of the ‘90s, but I Breathe Again is about as unashamedly self-aware a pop song as there can be. Furthermore, as a debut single, it’s big, bold and perhaps most importantly, bloody good fun.