Monday, May 08, 2006

Review #4: Unbreakable

Their first Greatest Hits, this is the fourth album to be released, and the fourth in this series of album reviews.

Unbreakable: The Greatest Hits Vol 1

Released: November 2002

The album: Westlife’s Greatest Hits album was largely premature. With only three studio albums preceding it, and with Westlife still relative newbies to the industry, a compilation shouldn’t have been quite on the horizon for a few more years. But they do manage to fill it well, and thirteen tracks on the album fall into the Greatest Hits category, a few of them welcome additions not appearing on earlier albums (Uptown Girl, I Have A Dream). However, it’s the new tracks that really shine. A better block of songs there has never been, so it’s a shame they don’t make up their own album. As far as the ‘hits’ are concerned, this compilation is encouraging for the future, but does highlight the number of covers in Westlife’s back catalogue. Still, it is not wildly ambitious to label this 'vol 1'. If this is anything to go by, Westlife will be around for a long while yet.

I Have A Dream:
Nobody should ever cover an ABBA song. Ever. But they have, and it’s pretty bloody awful. Not a good song at the best of times, the lads bring what they can to it and do as well as possible, considering what they have to work with. Overdone production makes this song far too busy and confusing; the vocals need to be more understated. A pointless cover.

Uptown Girl:
This is more like it! Rather than trudge through Billy Joel’s hit, the lads bring a genuine sense of fun to the affair, giving the track a complete new lease on life. The vocal arrangement is beautifully circular, giving each member a chance to strut their stuff on microphone, and complements the feeling of the song marvellously. Their voices become a little out-of-tune and breathless occasionally, but it feels intentional, as though they were dancing when they recorded it. Stellar stuff!

The guitar is the star here, leading every voice and guiding every violin. The music swells from Shane’s touching intro into the first harmony, and doesn’t let up. It’s almost country, it’s very pop, and it’s one of the most emotionally satisfying songs in the whole piece. The harmonies are top notch; every voice has a definite job to do and does it perfectly. Nobody stands out particularly, and it’s just as well, because Westlife as a whole lift this one straight off the ground.

Written In The Stars:
Is that a flute? Is that a synthesiser? No, it’s Mark, doing his very best impression of a pan pipe. The guiding beauty of that one small phrase brings the song together, drawing in genuinely affecting lyrics and setting a precedent for the other voices in the piece. And they all work; Shane especially, the call-and-answer bridge doing both he and Mark proud. The song is beautifully structured, every note building on the last until the emotional finale fades away.

How Does It Feel:
A decent song. Shane and Bryan’s balladic contribution is a little messy in the chorus harmonies, but redeems itself in the verses. Lyrically it has no real faults, but nothing exemplary. It’s content to sit happily, not commanding its own individual space amongst the standouts on this album. Oh, and it has a quite nice electric guitar solo, but it’s done better later on.

Bryan holds his own in this ballad, sounding strangely reminiscent of Bryan Adams. In fact, the whole song has an Adams-flavour, from the almost-rock weepiness to the sliding strains of electric guitar. Shane, too, shines, belting his verse with obvious passion. It’s epic, it’s emotional, and it rocks.

Love Takes Two:
Finally the lads venture into real pop-rock territory, after toying with the prospect in the preceding two songs. Driven by electric guitar and strings, the second verse defines the track; Shane’s syncopated attitude melds perfectly into an energetic guitar solo and Mark’s almost-gospel bridge. It’s another instance of a final chorus that outstays its welcome, but who really minds when presented with substance as rich as this?

Miss You Nights:
Another cover leaves us all shrugging. Cliff Richard’s song is lyrically exquisite, but the music could put an insomniac to sleep. At least for the first minute and a half. When it finally does kick itself awake it’s worth a listen – the vocals are tremendous, the backing choir adding real weight. But they didn’t really need to record this song, and could have easily given it a miss without damaging the feel of the album.

NB. Only new songs were reviewed here, and not those appearing on previous albums

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