U.K. duo Right Said Fred returns

By : Chris Gerard OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL GAY MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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Richard Fairbrass, left, and brother Fred Fairbrass of Right Said Fred. (Above photo courtesy Far Music Ltd.)

It’s been 25 years since the novelty dance single “I’m Too Sexy” by British group Right Said Fred was riding high on the Hot 100 and oversaturating radio airwaves and dance clubs the world over.

The international smash spent three weeks at no. 1 in the U.S., through most of February 1992. Now a quarter-century after their campy and satirical takedown of elite attitudes in the fashion industry was at its very peak, Right Said Fred returns with a new album, “Exactly!”

Led by outspoken LGBT rights activist and openly bisexual Richard Fairbrass (former host of the U.K. series “Gaytime TV”) and his brother Fred, Right Said Fred’s debut was a pop culture tsunami. “I’m Too Sexy” was absurdly ubiquitous not only at its peak, but for many years thereafter. It has been subject to more parodies and used in more commercials, TV shows and movies that it’s possible to contemplate. Even today the song remains very much in the public’s awareness. Although many would rank it right next to “Macarena” as an excruciating example of the worst in cheesy ‘90s pop and would be thrilled to never hear it again, “I’m Too Sexy” is inarguably a clever and fun track that now carries a strong sense of nostalgia for the early ‘90s.

A quarter century later, Right Said Fred is back. Well, to be fair, they’ve never really gone away. Although in the U.S. they haven’t been on the public radar since “I’m Too Sexy” and are considered a one-hit-wonder, in the U.K. and elsewhere they scored a string of hits. Three of them, “Don’t Talk Just Kiss,” “Deeply Dippy” and “Stick it Out,” followed “I’m Too Sexy” into the U.K. top five. Although their last substantial European hit was in 2001, they’ve never stopped releasing new music and making public appearances. It’s been almost seven years since their last album “Stop the World,” but it seems appropriate that they would choose the 25th anniversary of their iconic smash to return with their ninth album, “Exactly!”

So how does Right Said Fred sound these days? Well, if you’re thinking there might be another “I’m Too Sexy” lurking about, you’re gonna be disappointed. Richard Fairbrass’ voice still has that deep growling quality as he speaks the lyrics, although it’s gotten rougher over the years. Fairbrass sometimes alternates between speaking the verses and, often with other vocalists’ assistance, singing the choruses. As expected, there’s plenty of high-energy dance/pop, but unfortunately most of it falls flat. The album is surprisingly diverse, including the almost faux-country singalong “I Don’t Want to Die Right Now,” the power ballad “Save Me” (which seem to generate some genuine emotion from Fairbrass), and the old-school R&B sendup “One Fine Day.” “Angels and Devils” even gets into a swingin’ classic rock ‘n’ roll vibe, Fairbrass obviously having fun doing his best Elvis Presley. “Exactly!” closes with “Raining in England,” a piano ballad with a heartfelt vocal that turns into a standard rocker as it winds to its end.

Also problematic is the cheap-sounding production. There’s just not much fun to be had, even on the most upbeat tracks. Still, it’s better than trying to sit through a dozen attempted rewrites of “I’m Too Sexy.” It’s a good try, but “Exactly!” is going to leave Right Said Fred right where they’ve been for 25 years — forever associated with “Sexy.”

While it’s obviously difficult to escape from the shadows of such a cultural milestone, they deserve credit for keeping the music going, trying new and different things and striving to be creative. “Exactly!” is an album you go in expecting to hate, end up really trying to like, but in the end the songs just aren’t there.

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