Monday, May 08, 2006

Review #7: Face To Face

The last review in the series, there won't be a new album until the end of this year as long as Westlife are regular (we'll slip some laxatives in their tea to be sure). But at least we've got this, their seventh and most successful album, to tide us over until then.

Face To Face

Released: October 2005

The album: Westlife’s most successful album to date, the lads prove that there is life after Bryan. Whilst there is a lack of self-written songs (Bryan took his talents with him), they show genuine ability in selecting sure-fire hits, even if there are one too many covers here. Another drawback is the lessening of Nicky and Kian’s parts just when it looked like there might be a bit more equality in the Westlife camp, and so Mark and Shane’s voices start to sound a bit samey, despite their excellence. In the face of its flaws, however, the album has a high standard of quality, and every voice (even the ones not used very much) has matured and grown over the past year. It looks like Westlife might now be a man-band.

You Raise Me Up:
Sit down before you listen to this, or you’ll be knocked completely off your feet. Always an epic, this version of the song is the first ever to be recorded by a boyband, and there was no better boyband to do the job. Shane is back on form, his voice cultured yet natural, and Mark’s never more at home than when he lets loose in his distinctive gospel voice. The strings and piano are otherworldly and powerful, building and building… and then dropping away to reveal Shane, singing the final haunting lines.

When You Tell Me That You Love Me:
Diana Ross is actually dead. It’s true… and this is the proof. They’ve taken the old recording, mixed their own voices in, and let the diva’s reputation do the rest of the hard work. It’s slushy, dissonant, and limp. There are two different versions of this song available – maybe they couldn’t decide which was less abrasive. Even Diana sounds like crap, and that’s a lot for a woman who’s rotting away in a coffin somewhere. She shouldn’t sound like much at all.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect. There’s nothing else to describe this pure pop mid-tempo ballad. Shane’s voice and Mark’s are naturally dazzling, while Kian and Nicky’s contributions add welcome variety. The lyrics are adorably on-target; musically, it sparkles. There’s not a single fault to be had, because it’s perfect.

That’s Where You Find Love:
Affecting at first, this one gives way to tedium after the first few listens. Lyrics that start out emotional become cliché and silly, the music begins to grate, and before long you realise you don’t actually like it all that much. There’s no real reason for this, the quality is of a decent standard, but something about it doesn’t hold up. A slushy ballad.

She’s Back:
The opposite of That’s Where You Find Love, this one actually takes a while to warm up to. It feels stupid and over-the-top… and then suddenly your foot begins tapping along to it. An embarrassing affliction to be sure, but there’s no way to resist it, no matter how much you try. So stop fighting it, and give into the disco beat of this eventual ripper of a song.

Westlife doing the Eagles? Blasphemy! It’s a surprise then, when they pull it off. Mark’s voice is maturing by the moment, all the little youthful glitches disappearing and leaving behind a raw, capable sound that is both alluring and moving. Shane hits every note right, his emotionally melodic performance utterly without flaw. Nicky and Kian’s harmonies are spot on. There was never a legitimate worry – Westlife have this song nailed.

Colour My World:
An unusual choice, this one doesn’t quite conform to the cardboard cut-out ballad construction. Delightfully curious lyrics draw real interest; Mark’s falsetto is to die for; Shane can do absolutely no wrong. The gospel choir is back, clapping and whooping to great excitement. But, midway through the album you have to start wondering… where have Kian and Nicky gone this time?

In This Life:
Dull, dull, dull. A country cover that flat-lines from birth, you couldn’t find a more yawn-worthy track. Not to mention Ronan Keating did an almost identical version about five years ago, and that could almost be the same backing track. Westlife bring no new life to this, ready to sit back and coast along on a song so lazy and dreary someone should give it the gong and drag it off stage with a cane around its neck.

Heart Without A Home:
Classic Westlife, this one reunites them again with their regular writers, and it’s obvious that they work well together. The pounding piano is crammed with emotion, helped along by a drum beat that brings the ballad to life. The lyrics could venture into the world of cliché, but can’t manage it when the song’s as genuine as this. Vocally, it doesn’t let up for a moment, especially in the commendable bridge; Mark’s full range becoming apparent for a final belting duet with Shane’s husky tones.

Hit You With The Real Thing:
Put your dancing shoes back on, because Westlife have decided electronica is the way to go! More daring and dominant than Turnaround’s title track, it has its own personality. It’s surprisingly erotic compared to the stuff that’s gone before, grinding and dirty-dancing around the dancefloor. So commanding is it that when Mark screams “Throw both your hands above your head and let them levitate”, you actually have to. Your brain has nothing to do with it, your arms just lift, and there’s not a god-damn thing you can do about it. Such is the power of music.

Change Your Mind:
An odd, odd song, this one borrows from someone’s 60s catalogue, and could charm the pants off your nana. The fact that the lyrics are not exactly happy doesn’t matter a jot, because the music is so swaggering and sexy and the voices so cheeky. It’s free, jeering, and off its head. And look, Kian and Nicky appear for about a second and a half each. Rock on, lads. Rock on.

Maybe Tomorrow:
The standout ballad on the album. Maybe Tomorrow is a genuinely insightful and realistic view of a crumbling relationship. Instead of adhering to the cookie-cutter visions of perfect love, it takes an incredibly melody, adds heart-wrenching harmonies, and makes being achingly hopeful an art form. Nicky sings three lines here, and they’re the most unique and affecting of the whole album.


Rohan Williams said...

Wow... Just wow.

Grace Suter said...

What's 'wow'? My all-encompassing obsession?