Just a Boy
Warner Bros. BS 2836
Released: January 1975
Chart Peak: #16
Weeks Charted: 22
In mid-1973 Leo Sayer made his name as lyricist (with composer David Courtney) of most of the material on Roger Daltrey's first solo album. Six months later, Sayer's debut, Silverbird, was released to tremendous acclaim in England and modest response in the States. A sumptuously produced album, Silverbird suggested that the trio of Adam Faith (producer), David Courtney (coproducer and composer) and Leo Sayer (singer/lyricist) might establish themselves as commercial rivals to Elton John/Bernie Taupin/Gus Dudgeon.
In a floridly romantic style, Silverbird developed a vision of the artist as a schizoid loner, trapped behind the mask of a clown; much of its material was presented as an allegory related to show business lore, especially the circus. (The cover portrayed Sayer in Pierot costume.) Out of Silverbird emerged one classic Seventies tune, "The Show Must Go On," which Three Dog Night co-opted into a Number One hit in the States, while Sayer's superior rendition topped the charts in England. But the most impressive aspect of Silverbird was Sayer's singing, has ability to adopt different vocal styles to personify "split" personalities.
Just a Boy, Sayer's follow-up, recasts the themes of Silverbird in more modest trappings. While the images in his new material allude directly to Silverbird, the album dispenses with theatrical symbolism. On the back cover we see Sayer pointing toward his old clown image and laughing at it. On the front, he has drawn a picture of a dreamy little boy standing at the edge of a cliff -- an obvious takeoff on the cover of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.
Even more than Silverbird, Just a Boy obsessively preoccupies itself with the contradictory searches for personal identity and artistic recognition. Autobiographical fantasies, Sayer's songs travel back and forth through time, their central focus Sayer's image of himself as a boy. Either directly or by implication, the lyrics eulogize lost innocence, wringing pathos from the time-honored theme of having to grow up and go it alone in the cold cruel world.
Among the album's ten songs, the two best -- "One Man Band" and "Giving It All Away" -- already appeared on Daltrey. Sayer's renditions of both are more sensitive. "One Man Band" engagingly portrays a penniless boy-waif minstrel singing "his tale of woe." Here Courtney's jaunty melody perfectly complements the lyrics' doleful charm. In the more reflective "Giving It All Away," Sayer realizes an even greater poignancy. One wonders if the song might be about Sayer's giving much of his best material to Daltrey without realizing its worth.
Other fine cuts include "Long Tall Glasses," a song about a starving hobo who is forced to dance before he can eat, in which Sayer does a nifty vocal parody of middle-period Dylan; "Solo," a music-hall singalong which turns the syllables of its title tune into a pun ("so hello"); and "The Bells of St. Mary's," a Van Morrison parody in which Sayer looks back nostalgically to his "one-man band" days.
Just a Boy's schizoid meditations are less effective because they fail to provide a narrative setting for their high-pitched emotional statements. In "Telepath," Sayer converses with an imaginary comforting airplane which approaches him in dreams. "Train" is a similarly enigmatic boyhood fantasy of psychic escape. "Another Time," "When I Come Home This Morning" and "In My Life" revel in memories of personal agony. Faith/Courtney's production for Just a Boy is markedly sparer than Silverbird's, alternating a tinny music-hall sound with light rock. This approach places greater stress on Sayer's voice, which is so distinctive and compelling that it transmutes most of the album's weaker tunes into valid emotional statements. Few artists would dare to mythify their own lives as nakedly as Sayer has in his two albums. The fact that he more than half succeeds in making the enterprise creditable is some sort of triumph.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 2/27/75.
Leo Sayer, last year's brightest hope, has emerged in his new disguise, "Le Petit Prince," with a new album which reinforces all our original hopes and plans for him.
Two of the album's nicest moments come when Leo sings the songs he wrote for Roger Daltrey, "Giving It All Away" and "One Man Band." Sayer is a highly autobiographical writer and the pathos of "Giving It All Away" is even clearer now than it was when Daltrey gave it his own personal touch last year.
Tastefully produced by British rocker Adam Faith and Sayer's co-writer David Courtney, Sayer's album is a masterpiece of understatement. His voice moves from its coarse raspiness to its falsetto innocence easily. The arrangements by Andrew Powell are always enough, but never too much.
Of the new material I especially like the album's opener "Telepath" and the English single "Long Tall Glasses." On "Telepath" Leo is only accompanied by a rippling piano and some very subtle strings. The melody, though not as instantly memorable as "The Show Must Go On," is of the same calibre. "When I Came Home This Morning" features Sayer's pathetic little-boy lost voice. You probably remember it from "The Dancer" on the first album.
Leo Sayer didn't become as enormous a star as I thought he would last year. This year's still young.
- Janis Schact, Circus, 4/75.
The recent stuff with Richard Perry puts Leo squarely into the Seventies and that's all right, but when he was just a boy, giving it all away, Leo was writing and telling his own stories and saying much more.
- Ben Fong-Torres, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
Personally, I took him more serious in his clown suit. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
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