Gareth Gates – Say It Isn’t So

Released: 1st December 2003

Writers: Jörgen Elofsson / Per Magnusson / David Kreuger

Peak position: #4

Chart run: 4-8-24-27-33-38-52-58

Say It Isn’t So found Gareth Gates back in familiar territory following an attempt to mature his sound. But would a soaring ballad from a reliable team of Swedish hitmakers be enough to salvage what was turning out to be a difficult second album?

In principle, the idea behind Gareth Gates’s second album made sense. There was a need to move his musical identity beyond the chaste, stammering teenager who’d auditioned for Pop Idol but a desire to do so in a way not to alienate the fanbase who’d very much bought into that. However, in what felt very much like an over-thought idea, the material recorded for Go Your Own Way was arranged as a two-disc day and night concept. The first half (Night) housed ostensibly more mature uptempo, R&B-tinged songs, while the second (Day) mainly consisted of mid-tempos and ballads in the same vein as What My Heart Wants To Say. Go Your Own Way subsequently ended up coming across as a tentative step forward for Gareth Gates, with a very apparent contingency plan bundled onto a second disc in case things didn’t go as planned.

And it’s probably fair to say that had been the case. Though Sunshine – lifted from the Night section (immediately rendering the concept nonsensical) – reached #3, it was a modest seller compared to the preceding singles. Of greater concern was Go Your Own Way, which peaked at #11 and spent just four weeks in the top 75. Thus, the decision to fall back on the Day disc and release Say It Isn’t So seemed like the record label (Sony BMG) losing confidence in Gareth Gates and reverting to their backup plan. Particularly when there was still a degree of damage control required following the very public fallout of a fleeting relationship with Katie Price.

If that was all there had been to the situation, Say It Isn’t So may have been an effective (albeit transparent) strategy. However, things became a little more complicated when, in the meantime, Will Young launched his second album – Friday’s Child – with Leave Right Now. The track was a critical and commercial success that saw him regarded with a level of artistic credibility few TV talent show acts achieve. That suddenly put Gareth Gates on the back foot. But for Pop Idol, there’d have been little reason to compare him with Will Young. However, that link did exist, and the timing could barely have been worse to release a song like Say It Isn’t So the week after Leave Right Now.

There are some inevitable criticisms that were going to be aimed at Say It Isn’t So. Despite coming from the same team of Swedish songwriters behind Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake) – David Kreuger, Jörgen Elofsson and Per Magnusson – this isn’t quite as good. In fact, it’s not hugely different to the material they’d been contributing to Westlife’s albums since 1999. Indeed, Say It Isn’t So could feasibly have appeared on any of them during that time. Had the track been released several years earlier, it may have been a contender to top the chart because this is a great example of a very successful formula. But by late 2003, it started to sound slightly tired and Say It Isn’t So suddenly made it seem like Gareth Gates was actively moving backwards against the direction in which pop music was more broadly travelling.

Yet, despite these (valid) drawbacks, the song itself is top-tier. It had never been much of a secret that Simon Cowell saw in Gareth Gates an opportunity to create a one-man version of Westlife, and this a prime example of it. The track opens with a suitably pensive, poetic melancholy based on a couple parting at the train station: “Skies are dark, it’s time for rain, final call, you board the train, heading for tomorrow…”. It wastes no time piling on the melodrama: “Ten to five, at least we’ve tried, we’re still alive but hope just died, as they closed the door behind you”, with Gareth Gates giving a sincere and reliably doe-eyed performance.

While Say It Isn’t So doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to this sub-genre of Swedepop balladry, the music is beautifully orchestrated. The track builds throughout, adding layers of instrumentation – with the single mix throwing in some additional bells and finger clicks for a timely Christmassy vibe – that amplify the heartbreak in the lyrics: “Whistle blows and tons of steel, shake the ground beneath the wheels, as I wish I’d never found you, woah-oh”. Guitars, mandolins and strings are wrapped up in the soaring production creating the depth to achieve a sense of momentum that mirrors the lyrics. It’s a trick David Kreuger, Jörgen Elofsson and Per Magnusson pulled on Westlife’s My Love, and they achieve much the same effect here. During the middle eight, in particular: “Miles and miles to go, before I can say, before I can lay my love for you to sleep, oh darling, oh, I got miles and miles to go, before anyone will ever hear me laugh again”, the track evokes a palpable sense of movement, as though the world is passing Gareth Gates by.

True to form, Say it Isn’t So delivers a rousing chorus: “Say it isn’t so, tell me you’re not leaving, say you’ve changed your mind now, that I am only dreaming; this is not goodbye, this is starting over, say I’m not wide awake, if you wanna know, I don’t wanna let go, so say it isn’t so…” crafted with earnestly sentimental hooks that tug on the heartstrings. However, from the first moments of the song, a key change seems inevitable, and sure enough, it doesn’t disappoint. Say It Isn’t So ascends into the final choruses with typically unsubtle, lighters-in-the-air, confetti-falling-from-the-ceiling splendour as Gareth Gates ad-libs impressively across the towering melody.

The only downside – though a rather significant one – is that it’s all been done before, which lessens the impact. Furthermore, while Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake) used many of the same elements, it did so in a way that made the track feel believably written for Gareth Gates. On the other hand, Say It Isn’t So gives off fourth-or-fifth-single-from-a-Westlife-album energy. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing musically, he deserved – and needed – more.

Those similarities don’t end with the song, either. Despite Say It Isn’t So having a clear railway-themed narrative thread through the verses, none of that is used in the music video. Instead, Gareth Gates is shown forlornly wandering beaches and mountains in South Africa while singing the song. The landscape is undeniably stunning, but again, it all winds up feeling somewhat reminiscent of My Love, particularly when the key change is accompanied by dramatic sweeping shots around a cliff edge upon which Gareth Gates is standing. It’s not the first or last music video to use that idea. However, context is everything, and at a time when pop music was evolving, Say It Isn’t So was presented in a way that came across as more dated than it actually was. Ironically, in trying to play it so safe, Sony BMG made Gareth Gates even more vulnerable than he already was.

Nonetheless, Say It Isn’t So became his seventh consecutive top-five hit when it debuted at #4. By any measure, that was an impressive run, and despite being released in December, the track still sold 68,000 copies to end 2003 as the 95th biggest-selling single (ahead of Sunshine’s 63,000 copies). Yet, the shadow of Leave Right Now – which was spending its second week at #1 – loomed over Say It Isn’t So. As, indeed, did Will Young’s second album, Friday’s Child, which topped the chart and sold 860,000 copies in four weeks. Go Your Own Way, meanwhile, failed to re-enter the top 75 and doesn’t appear among the top 200 highest-selling albums of 2003. No further singles followed, and it didn’t take long for the press to begin speculating that Gareth Gates had been dropped by Sony BMG. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that he parted ways with the label (and Simon Cowell) after several years of denials and no further music being released.

That wasn’t the end of Gareth Gates’ recording career, though. He moved to Universal and released a third album, Pictures Of The Other Side, in 2007. It reached #23, yielding two singles: Changes (#14) and Angel On My Shoulder (#22), which isn’t too bad of an outcome following a three-year gap where any demand and momentum for new material was surely minimal, at best. There was a further foray back towards pop stardom when Gareth Gates joined season two of The Big Reunion in 2014 as part of the makeshift boyband 5th Story alongside Adam Rickitt, Kavana, Dane Bowers and Kenzie from Blazin’ Squad. He’s since continued to perform as a singer and sustain a career in musical theatre.

For all of Say It Isn’t So’s flaws as a make-or-break single, the song itself still held (modest) commercial appeal and probably would’ve appeared on a streamlined album tracklist without the confusingly themed two-disc concept. Ultimately, though, it was a victim of broader issues with the Go Your Own Way campaign that went far beyond what one song would likely be capable of addressing, regardless of how good an example of a proven formula it was.

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