Released: 29th December 2003
Writers: Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Gregg Alexander / Matt Rowe
Peak position: #9
Chart run: 9-16-27-38-52-69
I Won’t Change You is a routinely overlooked and disregarded single from Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s second album, Shoot From The Hip, which is a bit of shame because it’s not that bad…is it?
There existed something of a mismatch between Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s penchant for disco and ‘80s electronica with the more commercial, radio-friendly singles she released. It’s not entirely surprising that audiences went into her debut off the back of Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), Take Me Home, and Murder On The Dancefloor with an expectation of what it would sound like. Subsequently, the initial reception to the album was somewhat mixed; it’s not that what’s there was terrible; it just wasn’t a consistent extrapolation of those tracks. So, to help smooth the transition, two further singles – Get Over You and Music Gets The Best Of Me – were added. Read My Lips eventually sold more than 800,000 copies…but didn’t really do anything to address the underlying discord that existed in precisely where Sophie Ellis-Bextor sat as an artist whose sound simultaneously mixed niche and mainstream sensibilities
That became apparent when the follow-up, Shoot From The Hip, was released in 2003 and unceremoniously debuted at #19. Sure, it had been almost two years since Read My Lips by that point, and the lead single – Mixed Up World – was met with a somewhat muted reception. But even so, this was quite a drastic change in fortunes, and with the album exiting the top 75 after just two weeks, something needed to be done. Sophie Ellis-Bextor was – by her own admission – writing from a darker place than when she composed her debut. Thus, I Won’t Change You offered an opportunity to reintroduce some playfulness to her persona. Indeed, there are times where the entire package feels like a none-too-subtle attempt to emulate the success of Murder On The Dancefloor.
I Won’t Change You is written from a quirky, humorous angle, and that’s a difficult thing to get right at the best of times, let alone when also trying to fit the words around the structure of a pop song. So, even where the track doesn’t quite hit the mark consistently in that respect, it’s never through lack of effort. If anything, I Won’t Change You is perhaps more guilty of trying too hard; the second verse: “I used to change my style like I changed my mind, I tried to change a tyre but I’m not that way inclined, tried to change my figure, my diet too, I’ll still change my underwear if that’s okay with you” being a perfect example of where the lyrics land in a slightly surreal, abstract space.
However, there are equally moments when the songwriting sits more comfortably and consistently within Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s distinctive style of songwriting: “I used to think I had to change the way I am, to feel better, to get a man, but once I stopped trying I fell for you, you fell for me so I’ll stay the same for you”. As an attempt to capture that goofy – slightly twee – sense of being lovestruck, I Won’t Change You gets it right more often than it gets it wrong, particularly when coupled with the bouncy production. The: “And I won’t change, and I won’t change YOU! And I won’t change, and I won’t change YOU! And I won’t change, and I won’t change you…” post-chorus – where Sophie Ellis-Bextor harmonises with herself – which transitions into a jaunty, swirling synthy instrumental is pure joy.
And perhaps that’s where I Won’t Change You differs most from the songs preceding it. There’s little attempt here to be aloof or sardonic; Sophie Ellis-Bextor just sounds genuinely, heart-warmingly happy: “Now that I have found you, you’ve changed my life, ‘cos you’re the one who showed me I have everything right, we’re never gonna differ ‘cos we know it’s true, so don’t change me and I won’t change you”, which isn’t necessarily the way she’d portrayed herself in the past. Lest we forget, this is an artist who’d literally written about how music was her first and greatest love above any relationship. But things can change, and I Won’t Change You does feel like Sophie Ellis-Bextor dropping her guard and showing a side rarely seen.
The accompanying music video is where those parallels with Murder On The Dancefloor come to the fore, as we once again find ourselves embroiled in a narrative where Sophie Ellis-Bextor is attempting to pull off a scheme and emerge victoriously. This time rather than attending a dance competition, she’s at a speed dating event and has her eye on a devilishly handsome man. The theme of the song is taken in a literal sense, so she dons a series of different outfits and wigs in order to keep having the same date over and over again. Of course, Sophie Ellis-Bextor gets her man in the end. And even though the characterisation while she executes her plan is never quite so deliciously wicked as Murder On The Dancefloor, this is a delightfully silly video nonetheless (the dance breakdown appears to take place inside a luminous blue cocktail!) that is full of personality.
Given what I Won’t Change You was trying to achieve, it succumbed to probably the worst fate possible. The single wasn’t an outright flop – peaking at #9 – but just sort of…happened. It undoubtedly raised a few smiles but largely came and went without any discernible impact on Shoot From The Hip, which rebounded no higher than #83 in response. Even so, while it’s difficult to contest that I Won’t Change You didn’t do what Polydor were hoping, it also feels like the single gets a bit of an unfair ride given the broader context. Sophie Ellis-Bextor had recently announced her first pregnancy, so the promotion of Shoot From The Hip was always going to be impacted at some stage. However, after being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, she gave birth two months early, and the album campaign was subsequently abandoned, which is entirely understandable. In the aftermath, I Won’t Change You was given short shrift and quickly dropped from Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s live shows. Furthermore, it was omitted from both her greatest hits compilations. And just in case there was any lingering doubt, she’s cited it as the least favourite single of her career.
Alas, even if I Won’t Change You was due a resurgence in, say, a kitchen disco, it’s unlikely to happen because the master is among those held by Universal Records, which has been lost or damaged. Safe to conclude, then, that the song won’t ever be remembered as a Sophie Ellis-Bextor classic. However, it never ceases to be an utterly endearing curio, which – quite frankly – is perfect as it is and doesn’t need to change at all.