Monday, May 08, 2006

Review #3: World Of Our Own

Number three in a series of album reviews, this one tackles 3rd album World Of Our Own.

World Of Our Own

Released: November 2001

The album: Venturing into scary territory, Westlife pen a whole seven tracks here and, for the most part, it pays off, even if most of their own songs are pushed to the back of the album. Some especially standout performances lift this album above the previous two, set in songs that are so remarkably marvellous it should be criminal to release anything not close to the standard of this gem.

Queen Of My Heart:
Bringing about the return of the Celtic lilt, epic ballad Queen Of My Heart delicately infuses Bryan’s husky rock voice with waltzing guitars and marching drums. A deserved number one, this song is rhythmically superb. Shane’s and Mark’s vocals are exquisitely well-calculated, with not a note out of place and not a line glossed over. A real emotional trip, it's not to be missed. Bring the tissues.

Bop Bop Baby:
Written by Bryan and Shane, this one is a surprising new addition to the Westlife catalogue. The nonsensical chorus is whimsical and fun and, rather than making the sentimental verse maudlin, the beat keeps it so entertaining you can’t help but dance along. The lyrics are not as formulaic as the usual pop tripe, instead filled with an honest irony and a unique rhythm that makes bopping along inevitable.

I Cry:
And… IN come the drums! The power in this song is incredible, from the intense orchestral arrangement to the deep, harmonious vocals, Mark’s in particular. It’s his song, and deservedly so. No one else could pack such a punch, his voice commanding attention and belting out the final bridge with such utter enthusiasm and despair it’s awe-inspiring. Everything is big, but it avoids being overdone due to the sheer respect command by every note.

Why Do I Love You:
A return to the mid-tempo standards Westlife are known for, Why Do I Love You continues the run of brilliant songs on the album. A bouncy, pleasant song, it follows Bop Bop Baby’s lead of a fast-paced song with less-than-cheerful lyrics, and again works perfectly. Bryan, Shane, and Mark all excel here, bursting with wicked exuberance into the song and not lagging until after the final notes die away. The rhythm is fantastic, leaping happily through the verses and chorus, and even allowing Nicky and Kian the chance to shine, their harmonies boosting the song up to a whole new level.

I Wanna Grow Old With You:
You'd better still have the tissues handy from Queen Of My Heart, because Shane, Bryan and Kian really know how to put a heart-wrencher together. Finally a song about a love that survives… and it’s the biggest tearjerker on the album! The simple piano intro brings tears to the eyes before the first appearance of a lyric, but the lyrics certainly don’t disappoint. The uncomplicated words are earnest and heartfelt, the voices behind them sincere. Every note is an utter joy.

It's an impressive fact that they had a good run of five songs before a less-than-standard affair. This song isn’t so bad; it could be a lot worse. But with a precedent already set, this one comes in short on quality. There’s not enough enthusiasm here, resulting in a bored sing-along with limp lyrics and a faux-uplifting chorus. Nobody sounds like they’ve bothered, and they shouldn’t, because there’s not much else you can do with song but rush through it, recognise its good bits, and move on.

World Of Our Own:
The ultimate in party tracks, this one was born for radio, bursting onto the stereo with a jaunty rhythm encased in a drum beat that (sorry nana…) kicks arse! There’s no effort in Mark and Shane’s gleeful vocals, just the boundless joy that only pop this pure can create. Shove everything else to the side and have a good dance before you go back to your life. It’s the only thing to stop your bones bursting from your body and breakdancing on the ceiling.

To Be Loved:
After World Of Our Own’s ripping beats, it’s time to collapse in the bean bag for a chill out. But make sure you skip this track first. Like Evergreen, it doesn’t have anything really wrong with it, but it’s not exactly an indispensable addition to your music collection. As with most of the more boring ballads, Mark saves it when it hits the bridge, but sitting through it up until that point proves tedious. Go make a drink or some popcorn, then stick your head out of the kitchen for the decent parts.

Drive (For All Time):
With an oddly loveable beat, Drive shouldn’t really be as good as it is. The lyrics are sappy and formulaic, with people climbing mountains and swimming oceans and whatnot. You’ve heard it a million times before, so why hear it all again? Because it works. Traced along a foot-thumping beat and with vocals so decent it should be criminal, the song paints a smile straight along from one ear to the other as the slightly gospel rhythm erupts joyfully from the speakers.

If Your Heart’s Not In It:
Another criminally beautiful song, it’s the voices that really drive this one. Quiet melancholy suits them to a tee, especially when the song’s this good. The lyrics are fantastically driven and resolutely sad, with Shane, Mark, and Bryan’s voices suiting their respective lines infallibly. The song does go on a little long, but this doesn’t detract from the quality of the track as a whole.

When You Come Around:
Kian and Nicky are finally back, but it would be nice if they had something more to work with. Another attempt at self-penning, When You Come Around is disappointingly amateur, a real frustration considering it’s the first song Nicky’s been properly involved in writing. They don’t sing here, giving it over to Shane instead, which raises the question of how much confidence they actually had in this song. It’s way too forced and self-conscious to make much of a splash.

Don’t Say It’s Too Late:
There’s no doubt by now that Shane and Bryan are the real talents when it comes to song-writing, as this pop darling proves. It has minor moments of discord, but otherwise is chock-full of redeeming qualities because Shane and Bryan know their own abilities well; the song is tailor-made for their distinctive voices. In the same vein of If Your Hearts Not In It, the lyrics are suitably melancholy without being too clichéd, and fit perfectly to the careful piano/guitar accompaniment.

Don’t Let Me Go:
Kian and Nicky get another song, and again it’s not particularly impressive. Their voices are wasted here; they sound discordant and confused instead of showing the promise revealed in earlier efforts. The verses are stodgily organised, the chorus frustratingly jarring and, although they manage to jam everyone into the song somewhere, they’re milling about aimlessly in a dark closet, banging into the walls and each other without much grace.

Walk Away:
This album is definitely based on odd rhythms, as another addition to the odd rhythm train climbs aboard. Again, it works perfectly, but sounds as though it’s a cover of another odd rhythm we’ve heard another artist do before. Still, it’s happily endearing, and everything here works, so it’s best to close your eyes, give yourself over to the power of the ballad, and do it all with a big, pop-filled smile.

Love Crime:
Shane and Bryan could actually do better here. Uptempo has suited them well in the past, but this one thinks it’s R&B, when it quite obviously… isn’t. Lyrically, it doesn’t have much sparkle, and is a little clichéd. The music is slightly pretentious, the beat likeable enough but not able to redeem the rest of the song. Again, not a bad song, but not something fantastic.

Imaginary Diva:
Wow! Did I call Bryan and Shane the writers in Westlife? Certainly not, if this song is anything to go by! Mark nails his first recorded attempt at songwriting, belting out this believably R&B groover with obvious joy. He steals the show, the others are all reduced to backing harmony. The standout track on the album, that young Mark lad certainly must be one to watch in the future if this is any hint of burgeoning genius.

There’s not much you could do to top the Sarah McLachlan version. One of the biggest songs of the last decade and a standard at funerals, it must have been a scary prospect. The lads tackle it remarkably well. Shane and Bryan’s husky murmuring balances the gentle piano without being at all abrasive, and sound sincere enough; but you can’t help but see Ms McLachlan loitering in the wings, ready to show them how it’s really done.

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