Released: 14th July 2003
Writers: Andreas Carlsson / Chris Braide / Desmond Child
Peak position: #7
Chart run: 7-17-26-39-49-73
‘If you could have any superpower, what would it be?’ That’s where D-Side went for their second single: Invisible. No prizes for guessing what their preferred power would be.
The thing with invisibility is that once you start trying to describe what you’d do with it, it gets a bit weird because it essentially means you can spy on people and follow them without their knowledge. Some would call that creepy. Others may call it stalking. Either way, suddenly invisibility feels more like grounds for a restraining order than a superpower…and that’s precisely the position that D-Side find themselves in here. Even when it transpires that their actual power in Invisible is the ability to craft possibly the most extended metaphor in pop music.
The early ‘00s was a challenging time for boybands; many of headline acts from the previous years were either permanently or temporarily out of action (as good a time as any to point out that *NSYNC are technically still on hiatus). Meanwhile, those who had appeared in the meantime (Blue, Blazin’ Squad, Busted et al.) were operating from reasonably distinct areas of the pop spectrum. In 2003, there weren’t many acts playing it straight down the middle. But wait long enough, and just like buses, they will come: the first half of the year saw the arrival of Triple Eight and D-Side. And with both acts debuting in the top ten, it would be remiss to suggest that there wasn’t at least a bit of interest in them. But whereas a few years earlier, battle lines would immediately have been drawn for a fierce rivalry between the two; there was no such climate for it in 2003. And that muted response was most evident when we consider this single, which by rights should have been much, much bigger.
Invisible is a meticulously crafted song that finely balances pop sensibilities against commercial radio appeal with its more-than-midtempo-but-not-truly-uptempo beat. The vocals and delivery are loaded with a familiar sense of heightened sincerity and angst; in terms of the performance of the song, D-Side really give it some, which enhances the end product. And mercifully, although Invisible certainly has more of an organic sound to it than the boybands of yesteryear, there is no sign of the group trying to pull any “real music” schtick. If there was going to be a major boyband breakthrough hit in 2003, then this probably would’ve been it.
There is, however, an elephant in the room with Invisible, and that is the lyrics. Even back in 2003, they were eyebrow-raising at best…and tone-deaf at worst. Nobody was about to turn pop vigilante and start brandishing pitchforks in D-Side’s direction, because you can see the sentiment that the writers were chasing, but it’s incredibly clumsy. Certainly, it’s fair to say that by today’s standards, the chorus has not aged well at all: “If I was invisible, then I could just watch you in your room, if I was invisible, I’d make you mine tonight”. It seems that the intention was to up the ante for D-Side: unrequited love is a path well-trodden by our boybands, but in most cases, the object of the group’s affection isn’t completely oblivious to their existence.
In Invisible, that’s the struggle D-Side are facing, and it leads them to make statements like: “I keep tracing your steps, each move that you make, wish I could be what goes through your mind”. On reflection, this probably veers a bit too far into creepy territory. Outside of the ’90s pop bubble, where questionable and often nonsensical lyrics had been par for the course, rightly or wrongly Invisible was open to a bit more scrutiny, and it’s perilously haphazard more often than it’s not. That said, the: “If I was invisible…wait, I already am” coda to the chorus could quite easily have been delivered by the Backstreet Boys, such is the brilliance of its absurdity.
And let that not detract from the fact that Invisible contains one of the most latterly brilliant pop moments of the ‘00s with its middle-eight: “I am nothing without you, just a shadow passing through-ooh-ooh-OOH” and the distorted ticking bass sound effect leading into the final chorus. Truly, an underrated moment of pure pop brilliance, and the snaking hand movement that accompanies it in the video is probably one of the most onomatopoeic things to ever happen in pop music. Indeed, it’s probably the highlight of the music video, which isn’t in itself that bad, but remarkably similar to Speechless (except in this one the group don’t get drenched).
It’s a fair effort and a very telling representation of where pop music was headed at the time, moving away from garish colour palettes and extravagant set pieces into something a little more grounded and authentic. What makes the video extremely watchable is D-Side themselves: boy do they work the camera. Of course, Invisible is fully subscribed to the notion that there must be a dance routine, even if it’s not needed. And in fairness, the fully choreographed shots do look great. But even when D-Side are just milling around each other, there is a very natural togetherness that radiates from the group, and it’s captured well. Sure, the visuals don’t mirror the lyrics, which seems a bit odd considering how literal they are. But thinking about it, that’s probably a good thing!
In an early example of TV talent show contestants casually borrowing recent songs to cover, Invisible was also released in America just a few months later by American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken. It sounds…well, pretty much as you’d expect, although as a curio it does contain a significantly longer middle-eight, albeit one that seems like it’s hopped over from a completely different song. Easily the most interesting aspect of Clay Aiken’s Invisible is listening out for how much of D-Side’s version is still present. It’s most evident within the last minute or so, but there are some backing vocals – and possibly ad-libs – that sound remarkably familiar.
In the UK, Invisible was D-Side‘s highest-peaking single, reaching #7. Yet, in a sign of just how far boybands had fallen, it fell outside the top 200 biggest sellers of the year (Speechless, incidentally, was #200 with 37,000 copies). In a kinder climate, the track would surely have been much, much bigger. But these were increasingly dark times for pop music, and that gap in the market was there for a reason. Regardless, Invisible is a late, great addition to the roster, albeit one that does romance in a very questionable manner. It remains an essential (and criminally underrated) pop gem well worth revisiting.