Life You Imagine, Matt Goss’s highly anticipated solo album, is the classy, swinging sound of ambition, passion, and the realisation of 27 years’ experience in the music industry. If Goss’s pop career hit an early peak with “I Owe You Nothing” and “When Will I Be Famous”, the classic Eighties hits he enjoyed with Bros when he was just 17, it reaches an impressive new high with this brand new solo album – a project sprung into life by the singer and showman’s long-running, hot-ticket, weekly residency in Las Vegas.
“I wanted to write an uplifting album about the Vegas experience and feeling like a man,” says Goss with the insight born of an illustrious and varied career – and of being through the emotional mill. “You find your groove, and it feels good. I wanted it to reflect how I am now, and how I’ve been over the last four years, and what it’s like when you come through a big relationship.”
And it’s harder because Goss has a lot to say. He admits with a laugh that he and legendary producer Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, The Black Eyed Peas) “butted heads a lot” during the recording of Life You Imagine. “We’re both very meticulous, and we did push each other – but in the best ways.” His ambition – to honour the spirit of the musical icons he adores, from Presley and Sinatra to The Police and Amy Winehouse – would require a lot of hard work.
“This is about as authentic as it gets,” he says proudly of an album, – proudly retro yet also smartly progressive – that features a 16-piece brass section and 32 strings “and a world-class band… I just had to throw everything I could emotionally and creatively at this record. And luckily Ron is a lunatic as well, in the best way. He calls it the album of his life.”
Luckily, blessed with the musical chops honed by a rigorously weekly Las Vegas performing schedule, Goss was more than up to the task. A cornerstone song was one he wrote early on, and indeed was the number he took to Ron Fair first. The cool, sassy “Mustang”, the emphatic album opener that showcases Goss’s seemingly effortless croon, is a song about the importance of freedom within love.
“When you love somebody you have to let them be as free as they can be; you have to have the courage to let them shine as brightly as they can be. So the image of the wild mustang is love, running and running and running – and if you set it free it’ll come back to you. That’s what I want in my life.”
This passion was apparent early on, even in the song’s most basic form. “Ron heard my first sketches for these songs and said to me, ‘I want to build skyscrapers on these demos.’ And that’s what we did over two years. I can’t even explain how long those two years were,” he reflects with rueful chuckle, “just chipping away every day at the songs.”
Rippling piano, brass and strings belter Strong is another deeply emotive song. “The most relevant line is, ‘I felt shame’. Most songs about strength don’t consider the idiosyncracies and the failings within you that you want to improve. I acknowledge my weakness as well as my strength. The pre-chorus is inspired by Elvis – ‘I’ve been lost, found, I fell upon a higher ground…’”
“Lovely Las Vegas” is another inspired homage, this time to the city where this proud Londoner now spends a huge chunk of his professional life. Like his Sin City show, it was inspired by his childhood love of the Rat Pack, their style and their films and their music. He recalls sitting at his piano through the night, knowing that the inspiration would strike. Finally, as dawn was breaking, the song came to him. And already the mettle of this brand new yet vintage feeling song has been recognised: it’s now played in the arrivals hall at Las Vegas’s McCarran Airport, welcoming the 40 million annual visitors. There can be, surely, no higher accolade, especially for a working class Englishman transplanted to the Nevada desert.
Vegas, the city built on dreams and showbiz, has long been in Goss’s blood. This is also apparent in his personal style. “I’d be a fashion designer in a heartbeat!” he smiles. “I’ve always loved clothes. And over the past ten years, as I’ve found myself, being a man, you realise that you don’t want to follow trends any more. And I don’t – I know what I like. I never say, ‘I want that outfit on that shop mannequin.’ I like finding my tie-pins and pocket squares on eBay, and going into vintage shops and finding my ties and cufflinks. On whatever price point you’re at, you can find great stuff. I would recommend to any guy, if you’re gonna buy a new suit – which is a good thing – go and buy a vintage tie, so you know there’s something on you that’s yours.”
Getting tuxedo’d up for his Vegas show did more than make Matt Goss look good. It inspired him musically – suited and rebooted, he plunged into the making of Life You Imagine with heartfelt vigour.
“Evil” is a punchy, swaggering song that “requires the least explanation. It’s really just the perfect fuck-you song,” he says with a grin of the tune that, perhaps appropriately, rounds off the album. “She doesn’t care, and I don’t care – it’s all the raw emotions when you break up with someone.”
And then he wrote “I Do”, the last song completed for the album and the one he’s proudest of. “It’s not the most in-depth song lyrically,” he says with typical candour of a song that Ron Fair judges worthy of inclusion in the Great American Songbook. “But I didn’t want to write a sappy song – I’m definitely one of the lads!” he admits, ’fessing up to a 12-year boxing habit. “But I was just thinking: where is the song for the fellas? Where’s the song you choose to propose to a woman. And there wasn’t one…”
Well, there is now. Who says? The powers-that-be at American magazine Brides (Condé Nast). They recently used “I Do” to soundtrack an online wedding, the lavish prize in a competition hosted by the publication and Facebook. “It got 900 million hits when it was streamed!” Goss marvels. “And I was there, singing “I Do” as the happy couple came up the aisle.”
It all speaks of both the composure and confidence that fire up Goss after a quarter-century making music. Brilliantly, Life You Imagine also harks back to his roots with an inspired, swinging version of “When I Will Be Famous”. Reinvented, much like the man himself.
“I play the song that way in my Vegas show, and it’s almost how it was meant to sound all along. And with that version I want people to imagine that they’re in a 1920s speakeasy. Just as I don’t think you can overdress, I don’t think you can put limits on your imagination and what a song can do for you.”
Spoken like a true performer. But, ultimately, for all the deep-seated emotional honesty and gruelling graft that has gone into Life You Imagine, 44-year-young veteran Matt Goss didn’t make this album for himself.
“Really, what I want more than anything is, I want people to make love to it, to make babies to it, to get married to it, to dance to it, cry to it, laugh to it. And if that happens I’ll be a lucky man,” an impassioned, up-for-it Goss beams. “I want it to be part of the tapestry of their lives.”
Indeed, this is an album and an artist that are more than up to the task.