Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review #8: The Love Album

Released: 18 November 2006

The album: It was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I had my first listen of Westlife’s The Love Album (aka The Shag Album) – a mix of eleven of the ‘most memorable and romantic love songs ever written’ (quote: Westlife's official website, no less). Much to my surprise and relief, it was a victorious foray into the world of themed albums, with very few disappointments and quite a number of out-and-out triumphs. The songs were well-chosen and executed, with the requisite amount of emotion to assure us that this was not just a karaoke album in the making. It’s rather adventurous, with Westlife showing a flair for country, and bringing in a couple of less well-known songs to round out the anthems.

The only drawback is the lack of Nicky and Kian, and it’s both scary and ironic that Delta sings more than they do. Especially when there are so many songs that would have benefited from their voices, and from a bit of variety. But no matter, we’ve lost hope on that front and it’s best to move on, think of them as guest vocalists, and enjoy the wonderful fluff of this, Westlife’s eighth album

The Rose (Bette Midler):
Like a mishmash of all their other big-hitters, this one is not a low point on the album but it gets tired after a few listens. The usual Steve Mac production is there, but there are really only so many times we can have a big key change and massive production values before everything starts sounding the same.

Total Eclipse Of The Heart (Bonnie Tyler):
A very strange choice, and that’s what actually lets them pull this one off. Bonnie Tyler should be a no-go – something that’s such a scary prospect no-one should ever attempt it without being sure they won’t get death threats for butchering a classic. And the lads certainly won’t. Every note is pitch perfect, the production big and loud, triumphantly treading the middle-ground between homage and standalone.

All Out Of Love (Air Supply):
Ah, the Delta song. Putting my Delta-prejudice aside for the moment, I still maintain that it would have been better without her. Her voice doesn’t quite gel with theirs; in fact, strangely enough, her voice isn’t quite strong enough. The song feels as if it’s dipping and weaving between the different voices, and it lacks consistency. That said, it’s a decent enough adaptation, not becoming long and boring like other covers of the same song.

You Light Up My Life (Debbie Boone):
Considering it’s one of the most vomit-inducing songs of all time, it’s not a bad version. It’s still saccharine and sickly, but the revolting chorus is so over-run with gospel production that you forget how awful the lyrics are and notice that the verses are not that bad. Shane and Mark are both on top form, Mark’s gospel/soul voice used to perfection. You might throw up in your mouth, but at least it won’t spray all over the carpet.

Easy (The Commodores):
This one should have been a duet, and like the Diana Ross one (which shall not be named) it’s almost identical to the original. But Lionel Richie pulled out at the last minute so we’re left with this cobbled-together boredom. It’s more karaoke than a Saturday night at the RSL.

You Are So Beautiful (Joe Cocker):
Another one that should inspire projectile vomiting, yet… it doesn’t. It’s handled delicately, with skill and precision, every note judged and executed flawlessly. The simple lyrics are the perfect showcase for Mark and Shane’s talent, the subtle string section offsetting the slight growl in their voices. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Have You Ever Been In Love (Leo Sayer):
Easily the best song on the album, owing immensely to its obscurity. Rather than fall into the karaoke-trap many of the other songs skate around, it feels almost like a new song, which is what we all want anyway. Not to mention it’s a fantastic song in its own right. The lyrics are thoughtful and heartfelt, as is the execution. Not a note is put wrong, the arrangement is perfection. This is what a Westlife song should be. It’s just too bad it’s not an original.

Love Can Build A Bridge (The Judds):
Another victory from the lads. They should do country more often, if this is any indication of their talents. And here’s the big hitter… there’s FOUR people in the band for this song! Can you believe it? Nicky and Kian appear only briefly, and again it begs the question ‘why do they not sing more?’. Apart from that, the swaying, waltzing rhythm complements their voices wonderfully. The schmaltzy chorus is unashamedly sentimental, the verses emotional perfection. If only they did originals like this.

The Dance (Garth Brooks):
A big hit on tour this year, and long recognised as a trademark Westlife song, it was a foregone conclusion that this one end up on the album. Country seem to be the ideal direction for Westlife at the moment (much better than that embarrassing Rat Pack thing, anyway). The only drawback is that Nicky and Kian are not used more, as their voices have a distinctive country quality that would be far more appropriate than Shane and Mark’s vocal stylings, though Shane and Mark are hardly insufficient.

All Or Nothing (O-Town):
Originally meant for Westlife, the song went to O-Town instead, and the lads are finally getting a crack at it. It’s good, but it doesn’t quite beat the definitive version, though extra points for making it an acoustic. It would benefit from a bit more vocal variety.

You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (Righteous Brothers):
Bring me some rusty nails, I want to hammer them into my eardrums. Shane simply cannot cope with notes that low – he sounds crackly, forced, and fake, as though he’s doing a bad impression of the Righteous Brothers. Bring Kian in to show him how a decent low-note’s done. Mark is a delight, however, tackling his parts with an awesome whimsy and glee. He saves the second half. Avoid the first half entirely.

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