Sunday, May 07, 2006

Review #2: Coast To Coast

The second in a series of reviews, now it’s time to tackle Coast To Coast, the second most successful album ever released by Westlife.

Coast To Coast

Released: November 2006

The album: One year later, following on from the considerable success of their self-titled album, Westlife took a slightly different approach, infusing the staple ballads and catchy mid-tempos with some upbeat tunes. They were no NSync, but the more adventurous album showcased their diversity, and hinted their budding song-writing abilities. With a standard considerably higher than the original album, and only a few clunkers, the album brought the band into their own as artists, and set them apart from the one-hit-wonder pop wannabes.

My Love: Record Of The Year winning single My Love heralded the new standard for the Westlife ballad, one that would remain until Bryan’s departure in 2004. A tinkling piano and strumming guitar ushers in Shane’s pure voice, a chorus follows, bursting with harmony, and then Bryan’s slightly rock voice kicks it up a notch. Mark lets rip in the bridge, and then the moment to die for: different voices all over the place. High notes, low notes, pop, rock, soul, all surging together into a single molten harmony that lifts the listener right off the ground and into a musical climax of pure pop ecstasy.

What Makes A Man: Musically and structurally reminiscent of first single Swear It Again, What Makes A Man takes a beautifully constructed pop hit and gives it a dodgy title, that sounds like amateur porn. But the track itself is a heartbreakingly exquisite. A tearfully powerful note leads the song, setting the precedent for what is a belting, poignant cry for a love that is irreparably exhausted. The pain is written clear in every lyric and note, the vocals swarming together before dropping away, leaving Shane’s solitary, broken voice to soar into the defeated final words.

I Lay My Love On You: After the wretched magnificence of What Makes A Man, this track is a welcome addition to the album. Fun and addictive, the song has an undeniably catchy tune and simple lyrics. But this isn’t about the lyrics, this is about euphoria A simple piano intro, and then the drums kick in, bursting into a glow of exuberance that would have the most closeted pop fan dancing in the aisles; this is My Love’s manic brother.

Against All Odds:
Wow, Mark's really kicked in some high notes there! Oh wait... no... it's Mariah 'tits' Carey, doing what she does best: inappropriate vocal acrobatics. In more promising news, she doesn't completely drown out the lads, they hold their own very well, and Mark's more than a good contender for her trademark warbling. But the song wasn't good when Phil Collins did it, and it isn't much better now.

When You’re Looking Like That:
Now finally, an uptempo track! Where I Lay My Love On You kept itself carefully in the mid-tempo camp, this song isn’t afraid to be what it is: a cheeky, grinning track; full of excitement and with a danceable beat to boot! A guaranteed party hit for the more corny of us out there, the chorus orders you to dance, while the drum beat is foot-tapping material, and the lyrics will put a smile on the most snobbish of pop fans’ faces.

Back to the ballads, this one is – sadly – fairly ordinary. While not a bad song, it can’t live up to the standards of the previous tracks. The vocals are excellent, the lyrics exquisite, and yet something about the chorus drags it down. It feels restrained. The final chorus is a little discordant, too many voices fighting for a good spot. If not for that final chorus, this might be a reasonable hit, and things seem to be going swimmingly until then, but for some reason their trademark harmonies fail them, and the most interesting part is a chorus that Shane sings entirely by himself.

Somebody Needs You:
Another toe-tapper, Somebody Needs You is led by Bryan (gasp!), but is quickly taken over by Shane and Mark, who do their stuff with their usual style. Click your fingers to the verse, bob your head to chorus, and punch the air when the unexpectedly slow bridge builds back into a bounding drum beat with the most perfect of pop harmonies.

Angel’s Wings:
A groin-grabbingly high note is the centrepiece of this post-natal sentimentality. Not a terrible song, and believable enough considering Bryan’s impending fatherhood at the time, but apart from the cat-squawking of Mark this has nothing truly spectacular to offer. The gospel choir is overdone and only serves in pushing Kian and Nicky further to the back. The melody feels a little forced, the harmonies decent but not amazing, and the vocals unremarkable. Mark’s high note helps it along, but there’s nothing else that makes it stand out from the rest.

A silly song that uses a foreign title to make the lads sound more romantic. Or something. It’s doubtful that Westlife know what, exactly, ‘Soledad’ means, so the song has an air of muddled pretentiousness about it, right down to the over-prominent Spanish guitar, which damages its few good aspects. A misjudgement on their parts, but change the lyrics and the rest of the song could have been salvageable.

Puzzle Of My Heart:
Back on track again, this little harmony-driven piece is wistfully gorgeous, skating the edge of slushy without ever actually falling in. The strings accentuate their voices perfectly; every member is on form to create a magically flawless harmony. The lyrics are approached with unabashed sentimentality, which is just the thing when the song is as filled with corny desire as this one. But still… where are Nicky and Kian?

Dreams Come True:
Oh boys, watch out or you’ll become the Backstreet Boys! This is as close as they get, but this track, musically reminiscent of Larger Than Life, holds it’s own on the album, creating a memorable piece of soul-electronica that grabs its own spot in the dance floor and busts a move regardless of who else is watching. A flailing, pulsing undercurrent bursts into some surprisingly melodic lyrics, while Nicky’s voice can only just be heard, supplying the irresistibly mechanical echo that drives the verses.

No Place That Far:
Another cover. We knew it was coming sooner or later, but whether it matters is debatable. Originally recorded by Sara Evans, this country cover is given the pop treatment. It works within its limits, at least matching the original, but not really offering anything new except for a barely different genre. Mark and Shane work well to supply their usual brand of vocals and the song certainly does not suffer, but it feels an unnecessary cover.

You Make Me Feel: Who’s that? It’s Nicky! And Kian! Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the hidden members of the band should come forward and, what do you know, they can bloody well sing! Their under-use is a crime, if this song is anything to go by. Nicky’s voice is husky and sexy, while Kian’s verse is has a quiet innocence to it that tugs at the heartstrings. The song itself is simple, with a repetitive verse and chorus structure, but it does not suffer for this, instead allowing the artists to give themselves over to the power of the soaring strings and focus on their singing, which exceeds all previous efforts easily.

Loneliness Knows Me By Name:
A clumsy, badly written song with no redeeming features. The lyrics are clunky, as though they don’t know what the others are doing, and don’t fit with the upbeat music. Nothing here fits together, and the lads themselves sound embarrassed and confused.

Fragile Heart:
The first of two self-penned songs on the album, this one is a little underdone, but shows promise for future attempts. Shane, Bryan and Kian are learning their art here, and take a few risks that do almost pay off. The lyrics all work, the music almost fits it, but it really needs Mark’s deep, penetrating voice to complete it, and the lad does his job easily. Not a perfect attempt, but getting there, and well worth a listen.

Every Little Thing You Do:
An odd song, this one works in a strange sort of way. The chorus should sound dissonant and clunky as the voices again fight for space, but somehow the repetitive quality of the verses and the unabashed soppiness of the lyrics make up for it. The bridge is the real attraction, the syncopated swiftness defining the song and lending it individual excellence. Also, the unexpectedness of Mark in the opening verse while Shane takes over the bridge makes it all the more exciting and unique, and the whole thing works perfectly.

Nothing Is Impossible:
Another self-penned song, Kian, Nicky, and Bryan let their writing talents shine on this one. A more upbeat song, this one actually features Kian and Nicky, the underdogs of the vocal world, and again they tackle their parts with surprising joy and proficiency. As opposed to Fragile Heart, Nothing Is Impossible genuinely works, and brings its own qualities to the packaged pop flavour of the rest of the album. Based on the usual drums/piano/guitar structure of the other songs, it has its own indefinable uniqueness that is a delight to have on the album

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