Saturday, May 06, 2006

Review #1: Westlife

Here it is, the first in a series of album reviews. So let’s start right at the very beginning.


Released: 1st November 1999

The album: Their very first album, Westlife is safe and predictable, just like its title. The nostalgia factor is high however, and no fan can help but smile at the memories of almost 7 years ago. While the overall standard of the album is very high, compared to other pop albums at the time, it does not stand up to the quality of later, more adventurous albums. Still, it is sweet, innocent, and easy on the ears, and contains enough songs to warrant forking out the money (Seventeen songs!). A good addition to a lazy day chill-out session.

Swear It Again:
A tinkling piano intro breaks, ushering in soft, sweet vocals from Shane. The band kicks in. Drums, barely audible harmonies, and then the strings. In comes the chorus, and then there they all are. It’s hard to find a Westlife fan that won’t smile at the first sign of the powerhouse harmonies Westlife are renowned for. This first single is mostly a Shane affair, but shows the first hints of Mark’s powerful soul voice during the bridge. Definitely a lighter-waving single, until the very last tinkling of the piano.

If I Let You Go:
Westlife kick it up into the midtempo range. This is the first appearance of Bryan’s voice on a single, and he handles it spectacularly well, bouncing into the second chorus with style and rounding out the bridge. Shane and Mark’s vocals are again strong, accentuated by instantly catchy strings and percussion.

Flying Without Wings:
The defining Westlife single, this is again a mostly Shane/Mark affair. Mark’s soul voice is again used perfectly, and Shane’s pure pop stylings are a seamless precursor to the first notes of the orchestra. This is a voice-driven affair, every note flawlessly planned. Yet it does not seem sterile. Infused with a raw emotion, the song earns its anthemic placement in pop history.

Fool Again:
A slightly lacklustre single, its first playing excites interest which quickly drops away, leaving the listener feeling slightly bored. There’s nothing exactly wrong with it: the vocals are stunning (especially as far as Bryan and Mark are concerned), the music is pleasant, the lyrics are suitably wistful, and the chorus is catchy enough. There’s just something missing. There’s not enough bounce, not enough sparkle. There’s no connection, and so this one just barely misses out on earning our attention.

No No:
Now this is more like it! Westlife almost foray into the scary uptempo world they seem to be skating around. It’s catchy, bouncy, and fun. The lyrics don’t really matter, although they are highly singable, because it’s the lively drum beat, exuberant vocals, and occasional finger click that keeps the listener engaged, leaving them a bouncing, jiving mess even after the last line fades away.

I Don’t Wanna Fight:
Mark’s beautifully deep voice headlines this song, making the listener sit up and take notice almost immediately. His voice is raw and young, with the hint of a lisping accent in the corners. But rather than be undeveloped, this is a refreshing change to the sterile pop we’re used to. Shane’s voice, as well, packs a real punch, but the fact is that it all goes on too long. The chorus is a lengthy affair, really requiring only one repetition at the end of the song, and by the time Mark’s voice returns for the final lines, we’ve all lost a little of our interest.

Change The World:
Yawn. This is another midtempo in the vein of No No, but with little of its sparkle. The lyrics are lazy and clumsy, and the bouncing chorus grates on the nerves. A filler. No more, no less.

Lyrically, this is a beautiful addition to the album. Shane’s simple leading verse is underlined by uncomplicated piano, and the harmonies that follow him into the chorus are understated and blend his verse and Mark’s with effortless simplicity. Building to its crescendo, the song takes the listener along for the ride, surfing us up through the gospel climax and then letting us fall delicately back into the simple piano and pure voices of the finale.

Seasons In The Sun:
Not the greatest choice of song, but the lads handle it well and it’s not too agonising to sit through. Terry Jacks saccharine whinge is given a pop treatment it probably doesn’t deserve, and finally… finally… we get to hear the other two voices in the band. The song is split verse by verse into different vocalists, and some listeners may be a little confused at first by just who that strange new voice opening the song belongs to. It’s Kian, and it’s really a wonder that his rock voice isn’t used more often on this album. A similar case with Nicky, who carries the penultimate verse with husky ease. Take note of these voices, because you won’t hear them again until the next album.

I Need You:
Cheerfully yearning fluff, this one saves itself from filler-status on the album, but only barely. It’s easy pop, with not much emotion and no real defining aspects. The only thing that saves it is Mark’s voice, which doesn’t really have much to do here, but brings the same qualities it shows in No No: that raw, un-nurtured talent. Bryan, as well, makes a return, but doesn’t do much of significance. A bit like this song, really.

Miss You:
Oh look! Celtic music! The lads are from Ireland, aren’t they? Where Celtic music comes from? How clever and droll! Surprisingly, it actually works. The song, while not being the best on the album, is certainly not a filler. The lyrics are simple and delicate, and the Celtic flavour adds rather than detracts from its quality. Again, it’s a Shane-and-Mark affair, but we’re starting to get used to that. We’ll have to, it’s a trend that will continue well into the next decade.

More Than Words:
Another cover, this one adopts XTreme’s 90s pop standard, but dispenses with all the surplus seconds wasted in the original. The verses are tided, the choruses handled easily, and Kian makes his second audio appearance, albeit only as guitarist. Bryan’s voice is a welcome return, complimenting the acoustic flawlessly. And for once Shane and Mark play second fiddle to him; especially Mark, who doesn’t really sound like he knows what he’s doing there.

Open Your Heart:
This song is a bit like that uncle that always shows up at your party. No-one’s invited him, he doesn’t really do anything while he’s there, and everyone’s courteous because they have to be. This song’s likeable enough. It isn’t purposefully boring, and it doesn’t get drunk and puke in the punchbowl. It tries it’s gosh-darn best, and nobody really hates it. We just all forget it’s there until the next time we put the CD on.

Try Again:
If Open Your Heart is like the uncle at your party, Try Again is the auntie. It’s a bit more soft, a bit more feminine and delicate, but really is a complete non-event. It’s nice, sure, but you don’t make a beeline for it when you see it standing near the barbecue.

What I Want Is What I’ve Got:
Stupid lyrics, energetically manipulative chord progression… but it’s just so likeable! You’ll find your head nodding along to this song without your permission, even though in the back of your mind you realise it’s utterly awful. It’s bouncy, midtempo fluff with no point or purpose except to dig under your skin and make you start singing the harmony in the shower. Nobody’s voice contains a standout performance here; you just give yourself over to the head-bopping.

We Are One:
The strings steal the show here, although they are nearly usurped by Mark’s final high-noted flourish that extends from the bridge throughout the final chorus. A gorgeous, beautifully sumptuous song that’s big on orchestra and passion, the emotion singing through your veins like a drug. This is ballad-pop at its best.

Can’t Lost What You Never Had:
A hint of future genius, this song finally diverts from the safe stylings of the preceding songs and takes us into a whole new world of syncopation and groove. It’s so close to R&B they could have just magically changed their ethnicity. Every voice (ie. Bryan, Mark, and Shane) displays power and real talent, while the beat is cosy and exciting at the same time, and the lyrics are inspired. It’s like a great big Westlife hug, and works a treat.

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