Monday, May 08, 2006

Review #6: ....Allow Us To Be Frank

Okay, here comes 2004's Rat Pack album! It's their sixth. And my sixth review. You know the drill. Bring on review number seven, and then I might be able to sleep...

....Allow Us To Be Frank

Released: November 2004

The album: With Bryan/Brian now gallivanting about Australia sans his wife, it was time for Westlife to stop mourning their loss and get on with their careers. Sort of. This collection of swing classics plays it very safe, maybe a little too safe, but it’s better than the duets album that might have resulted in its stead. It was hopeful that Nicky and Kian might have been allowed a little more microphone space, and they are to an extent, but that’s eclipsed by the massive three songs taken over entirely by Shane. The band has become less equal, not more, which is a shame. Also a shame is the way the album suffers midway through, lagging for at least 3 songs before returning to its former standard. But it could be a lot worse. Also, note the handy "...." before the title. Yes, that is the accepted spelling.

Ain’t That A Kick In The Head:
Incredible stuff, the lively burst of brass is a stunning introduction to the album. Kian and Shane call-and-answer like old hands, Mark’s usually soulful notes are suitably husky, and Nicky has a huge grin in his voice. The brass continues through the whole thing, encouraging finger-twirling and foot-tapping. Shane, especially, could pass as a Las Vegas resident, his American drawl lively instead of a shameless mimic.

Fly Me To The Moon:
Shane loses it a little bit here. His American brogue, stunning in Ain’t That A Kick In The Head, sounds forced and muted. Mark, however, stands out, his voice crackling hoarsely at just the right moments, accompanied by laid-back brass and leisurely harmonies.

Get the tissues out! The tinkling piano suits this perfectly, guiding Mark’s quietly skilled voice into Shane’s verse, which is also handled with delicate proficiency. The other lads don’t have much to do but ‘ooh’ in the background but, rather than detract from the track, it enhances it, helping the music swell into its emotional final moments before dropping away, leaving Mark to round out the last line brilliantly.

Let There Be Love:
Another finger-twirler, another perfect American drawl. This song is a delightful mid-tempo, perfect for bringing a nostalgic little smirk to your face as the simplicity and daftness of the lyrics takes over. Shane scoops all of the lead vocals, leaving the others to harmonise in the background, but it doesn’t detract from the song in the slightest.

The Way You Look Tonight:
The extended orchestral intro is the highlight of the track, flowing whimsically into a landmark romantic song. And if you don’t feel like tugging your love to the dancefloor, at least stand on the sidelines and click your fingers. Skating the line between slow and mid-tempo, the arrangement is remarkably well judged, and the lads know exactly what to do with it. Although there are a few moments of dodginess in Shane’s pitch, it doesn’t subtract from the quality of all the other factors.

Come Fly With Me:
Wincingly grating, Shane sounds as though he’s smoked a packet of cigarettes, screamed for half an hour, and then thrown up milk through his nose. His voice fails badly; the low notes are too low, the high notes too high, his accent not consistent enough. And then he has to muddle through the whole thing, because he’s actually the only one to sing solo on the whole track. The best part is the musical interlude.

Mack The Knife:
Back into gear, Kian sounds like a born American. Everyone gets a chance to strut their stuff here, and it works perfectly, especially for those bored by Mark and Shane taking over all the time. No performance is above another, everyone handles the jaunty rhythms stylishly, with a sense of cheeky humour set to a brilliant brass track.

I Left My Heart In San Francisco:
Shane’s starting to outstay his welcome. The American drawl, once delightfully novel, really begins to grate on the nerves during this, the third ‘Shane only’ track. It’s a boring song to start with, and doesn’t get much better, as the other Westlifers recycle the same ‘ooh’-ing harmonies they’ve done on every other track.

Summer Wind:
Few things work here. Shane is getting unforgivably tiresome, it’s musically undercooked, the harmonies need some vibe instead of those increasingly irritating ‘ooh’s. Mark is just about the only thing showing promise, and even he sounds bored and flat. There’s no enthusiasm at all. Someone needs to stick this in the microwave and thaw it out. And even then, it’d probably be stale.

This one is laughter central, but at least it’s supposed to be. The naughty lyrics are handled with obvious hilarity, the accents are over-the-top, the rhythms are groovy, and Mark’s sudden ‘Whoops!” deserves an award. There’s even some bubble sounds in there! It gets bigger and better all the way through, the merriment building obviously among the singers. One of the best tracks on the album.

When I Fall In Love:
Note to Westlife: Extended orchestrals = good. This one is stunning. Mark’s voice is an absolute standout here, impressively restrained for a boy known for his vocal acrobatics. Shane’s voice, too, is heartfelt yet controlled. The orchestral intro rivals that of The Way You Look Tonight, bringing even more romance to the album than that one over could. Less of a finger-clicker and more of a waltz, this is Westlife doing what they do best: passionate, dreamy ballads.

Moon River:An absolute swooner, Mark has never been better. Every note is judged, every falsetto perfect. Every single line washes into the eardrums, sending tingles up your spine. He could have irritatingly overshadowed the other Westlifers, as Shane did on previous tracks, but instead it’s as if they were never there. The whole thing fits perfectly, making this a valuable song for any music collection.

That’s Life:
Not outstanding, but it rounds out the album nicely and is an adept finale. It’s like the last song of the night, when the patrons are starting to sway, and even the band’s got one too many drinks in their stomachs. The lads slur and drawl dramatically through every line. It genuinely works, a worthy addition from the genre.

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