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WIND BACK WEDNESDAY STANDS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE POP ROAD


With Pete Murray picking up another nomination last week for the 2017 ARIA Awards, for best adult contemporary album, and James Blunt touring here soon, it’s timely to go back to 2005 and an examination of our love affair with the nice, the decent, the regular.

Wind Back Wednesday checks on a prediction or two and asks, has anything really changed?

CUT OUT THE MIDDLE MAN? NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN

Pic credit: Justine Walpole

Margaret Thatcher was not a music critic. But she had her moment.

Her one foray into the areas was her view that "standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous: you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides", a line you will hear repeated in some form during every Australian Idol or ARIA Award telecast.

But as anyone who's ever tried to sell an album will tell Maggie T, the only danger when standing in the middle-of-the-road is being knocked down by the tens of thousands of buyers desperate for some of your not too hard, not too soft, not too weird, not too hot fare.

As Amanda McGregor of management company One Louder puts it: "The majority of people are not looking to be challenged by the music they listen to. Mainstream pop is for kids and adults alike - a throwback to songs at school assembly. It's safe, a known quantity, you can sing along to it with your friends, you really know the chorus and can do it all whilst half asleep."

Which brings us to three Australian men who bestride that highway, each of whom could be called the colossus of (the middle-of-the) roads: Pete Murray, Alex Lloyd and Shannon Noll.

Each of them has had number one albums or singles, or both, and have had their songs used at footy grand finals, television commercials and more bad karaoke nights then you could count.

Crucially they've achieved that pop star status while never alienating blokey blokes who like to hug have their mates and sing together drunkenly.

They have all done it slightly differently too. Lloyd came out of an underachieving indie funk band and reinvented himself as a round faced romantic singer who has soundtracked many a wedding with his declaration that "you were amazing and we did amazing things".

His three solo albums since 1999 have sold a total in excess of half a million copies (though with diminishing returns it was noted by his former record company who didn’t exactly kill to keep him when the contract expired) and he owns three ARIA awards for best male artist.

Noll was the runner-up in the first series of Australian Idol in 2003 and, accompanied by a little smudge of hair under his bottom lip, built on that with a cover of the Moving Pictures oater What About Me? and a vigorous attempt to tap into every country town and outer western suburb.

The result was a debut album of mid-tempo, mid-volume, mid-excitement songs which sold around 400,000 copies.

Murray's success took longer to build through 2004 - it took him 33 weeks to get to number one. But his album of songs which had a bit of the relaxed surfer sound, a touch of the relaxed Jimmy Barnes feel and a hint of the sensitive - but hey, still ruggedly masculine, ok? - man about it eventually sold nearly half a million copies.

By some quirk of timing, or record company misadventure (since they are all signed to the same label), Murray, Lloyd and Noll have all just released their new albums, within a few weeks of each other.

This leaves open the prospect that far from Thatcher's "traffic from both sides", the real danger for them could come from the rest of the middle-of-the-road. But their record company isn't worried.

“The creative process of the artist dictates the release date. They are all very popular artists with broad appeal who have large fan bases, says John Parker, Sony's general manager of marketing and promotions.

"All these records will have a lifespan of 12 months or more. Ultimately the public decides and we are very confident that these three records will stand on their own as great Australian albums.”

For all Sony's confidence the question most likely to be asked still is who will win out? Murray debuted at number one with his album See The Sun, played at the rugby league grand final and is already touring. He will almost certainly take home the best male artist award at next year's ARIAs and looks fairly safe.

Noll's pre-album single, Shine, also debuted at number one earlier this month and Australian Idol is filling our screens again possibly offering publicity by proxy.

But will those fans want an album which comes with the promise/threat that most of the material has been co-written by him?

Which leaves Lloyd who has had virtually no profile for two years. But if my prediction three years ago that he is this generation's John Farnham (loved equally by the daughters, the mums and the grandmothers who all want to make him a cup of tea) holds true he may end up smiling longer than the others anyway.

#ShannonNoll #PeteMurray #AlexLloyd #WindBackWednesday

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