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Westlife - Topic

Gravity Play

Irish four-piece Westlife are still going strong 11 years after scoring a U.K. and U.S. hit with debut single "Swear It Again," having avoided the usual "three albums, greatest hits, breakup" career trajectory of most boy bands. But while their chart statistics remain impressive on paper (the previous year's Where We Are and lead single both reached number two), they have been pretty much irrelevant since 2005's Face to Face. Content to release a new album every November, just in time for an X-Factor performance to boost Christmas present-led sales, and then disappear for the following ten months, they've become a seasonal act in the vein of Cliff Richard and Daniel O'Donnell, rather than a contemporary pop presence. But having had the festive period sewn up for the past decade, they now face their toughest test yet, with boy bands both older (the revitalized Take That) and younger (the chart-topping JLS and the Wanted) all releasing albums off the back of huge number ones and airplay staples. But despite claims that Gravity, incredibly their tenth studio album, is the best and most varied of their career, its 12 tracks produced by John Shanks (Bon Jovi) aren't exactly a huge departure from their late-noughties output. Indeed, the likes of lead single "Safe" and "Closer" are the kind of epic Take That-esque pop/rock ballads that they've attempted on their last two releases. And while the first half of their career saw them rely heavily on covers of distinctly easy listening favorites Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, and Brian Kennedy, Gravity continues their more recent tradition of reworking U.S. soft rock anthems, with Hoobastank's "The Reason" given the same MOR polish as previous renditions of tracks by Lonestar and Daughtry. Apart from the minor flashes of electro on opener "Beautiful Tonight" and "No One's Gonna Sleep Tonight," the rest of the album is filled with the same kind of clichéd "stand up for the key change" ballads they are notoriously famous for. The only surprise appears with a faithful cover version of "Chances," the string-led epic from Brit-pop also-rans Athlete, a rather offbeat inclusion considering their predictable and unadventurous history. However, Westlife aren't exactly well known for their original streak, so hardcore fans are unlikely to be disappointed with its safe and familiar sound. But with far more exciting and inventive material from their contemporaries, it could struggle to match the success of their other multi-platinum releases. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Westlife Play

Westlife has taken the world by storm much in the same manner as did their predecessors Boyzone and Take That. Under the tutelage of Ronan Keating (from Boyzone) and his manager, Louis Walsh, five handsome and, most importantly, talented young men were assembled and groomed to create this debut. The album itself is well-sung, but all too similar in its final output. Mostly comprised of ballads whose theme is the obvious sort (i.e., love gained, lost, and pleaded for), the hooks are infectious and several tracks are destined for recurrent radio status in the not-too-distant future. This pared-down collection of songs from their multi-platinum worldwide smash release is much more palatable than its original incarnation, which ran a lengthy 17 tracks. The gems and solid compositions are what their American label has presented. Every song is well-produced and well-placed in the set; as mentioned, each track is perfectly executed. This assemblage is a worthy complement to the listening pleasures of anyone enjoying the likes of today's most popular boybands (e.g., Backstreet Boys, Five, N'Sync). The album overall can be characterized as sometimes bland but unforgettable, with the standouts "Flying Without Wings," "I Don't Wanna Fight," and "Swear It Again." ~ Jaime Ikeda, Rovi

Turnaround Play

On the Westlife shore of soft and sappy love, Turnaround involves a pebble toss toward rock, and it's all the better for it. If it had gone all the way, if it had found a producer willing to risk fortunes on morphing a pop group into a rock group, something remarkable may have happened. As it stands, it is a notch above typical, but only a notch. It is also the final album before the great turnover, in which lead vocalist Brian McFadden fled the group, stating that, "It's hard to juggle two lives when you've got a family." He subsequently reemerged as a solo artist and professed disgruntlement over the requirements associated with boy band captivity, which included shaving every day. When interviewed by Wil Marlow of The Journal, McFadden said, "I was standing there trying to sing a song like "Mandy" and be all emotional when I've never even met a Mandy." Surely he had met a Mandy, among the legions of fans the group had collected by this, their fourth original album. But having an artistic and independent view on a group's output would definitely cause friction when the producer is American Idol's stubborn Simon Cowell, who insisted the song be included. Ironically, Barry Manilow never wanted to record the song either, but his producer, Clive Davis, insisted. Yes, the song is included here, was the first release off the album, and became their 12th number one hit on the U.K. charts. But there are far more interesting goings on on the album, starting with "Hey Whatever," which is unconventional pop, trendy but hypnotic and declarative in its shun-the-world-and-find-your-bliss message. It's not exactly preaching the gospel, but it's as joyous as a lively black church service, with music that might inspire pew evacuation in favor of dancing in the aisles. The title track and "Thank You" follow in a similar, but less provocative, upbeat vein. Their surprising cover choice of Mr. Big's classic "To Be with You" lacks testosterone compared to its original, but it's nevertheless adequate. The rest of the tracks teeter between softer pop and ballads, of which "Obvious" stands out, with backing vocals that sound either wistful or magical, depending on the listener's mood. Diane Warren contributes a selection, as does Christian songwriting team Tommy Sims and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who have worked closely with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but have written here a secular and soulful R&B ballad, requiring voice keys to rise higher than has been heard from Westlife before. Turnaround should have pushed for a 180 degree turn; it made it about 90 degrees, and that's 90 degrees none too shabby. ~ Peter Fawthrop, Rovi

The Love Album Play

A tradition had developed whereby every November since they first broke onto the scene, Westlife, one of the most successful boy bands ever, would release a new album and it would stay on the market, selling well though December, the most profitable time of year. Indeed, they sold well enough in most years to have the number one album, an achievement they had accomplished in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005, only missing out in 2004 with the Allow Us to Be Frank swing album, which had probably been too similar to the Robbie Williams Swing When You're Winning project, even for them. They had also missed out with their first album, Westlife, in their breakthrough year of 1999. Now in 2006, Westlife released their seventh album, playing it safe again with a collection of standard well-known love songs and ballads (they rarely did anything else) called The Love Album, which went on to become their fifth number one. There was a swagger and a confidence about Westlife, and also their record company, regarding the timing of their releases. Nobody was going to stand in their way. Having beaten off the Spice Girls' comeback album in 2000 for first-week sales, they were not frightened of any other label or artist stopping them from easily achieving a number one. In 2006, the competition was easily the strongest yet with albums by Oasis, U2, and even the Beatles, all released in the same week. No problem. With a fan base as loyal as theirs, they knew they had the number one position sewn up, and so it proved to be the case, admittedly only for one week, when the group that preceded them in teenage girls hearts, Take That, took over at the top with Beautiful World, their comeback masterpiece.
There were millions of songs that could have been chosen for an album project with two criteria -- they had to be love songs and ballads -- and Westlife, their management, and record company should be commended for not choosing the most obvious. Sure, there were versions of "All Out of Love" (which they performed with Delta Goodrem), "Have You Ever Been in Love," and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" (a welcome change from the overused "Unchained Melody," which almost all of the Pop Idol and X Factor wannabes chose to perform). They also included Bette Midler's "The Rose," Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," and the Commodores' "Easy," all sung with not too much variation from the originals, but just enough to stamp that Westlife sound onto them. They also chose more unusual tracks: Garth Brooks' "The Dance"; "Love Can Build a Bridge," which had been a Comic Relief charity number one single in 1995; and Joe Cocker's mid-'70s hit "You Are So Beautiful (To Me)." If their fans stay loyal, Westlife could probably keep this level of success up for a long time to come. ~ Sharon Mawer, Rovi

Back Home Play

Westlife were the band that everyone loved to hate, except those who bought enough of their albums to give them seven number ones from nine releases. One album per year from 1999 to 2007, all released in November and every one of them giving their public exactly what they wanted, and Back Home is no exception: 12 new songs, nine of which are heartfelt ballads, with only the uptempo numbers "Something Right," "The Easy Way," and "Pictures in My Head" to break up the melancholy. ~ Sharon Mawer, Rovi

Where We Are Play

Westlife's ninth album, Where We Are, follows a yearlong sabbatical that the bandmembers took after celebrating their tenth anniversary with the concert video 10 Years of Westlife -- Live at Croke Park Stadium (2008). Where We Are was billed as a slight change in direction by the boy band, whose formula for chart-topping success had become overly predictable in recent years. In search of a fresh approach, they worked with a lot of American songwriters and producers, most notably Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, who co-wrote and produced two of the album highlights, "Shadows" and "Where We Are." They also worked extensively with the veteran American R&B hitmakers Louis Biancaniello and Sam Watters, who are credited with three songs ("How to Break a Heart," "Leaving," "Sound of a Broken Heart"). Another album highlight, "The Difference," comes courtesy of Anne Preven and Scott Cutler, formerly of the Los Angeles alternative rock band Ednaswap, whose song "Torn" was an international smash hit for Natalie Imbruglia in 1997. Moreover, the album's lead single, "What About Now," is a cover version of a hit single by American Idol winner Daughtry that was co-written by Evanescence bandmembers Ben Moody and David Hodges. Despite all of this American input, Where We Are sounds like any other Westlife album, in part because it's such an assembly-line effort (by one count there are 29 different songwriters and 17 different producers credited on the 13 songs). As always, the album is comprised of power ballads about love and heartbreak with soaring string arrangements and earnest vocal performances by the bandmembers. Fortunately, there are many first-rate songs here -- more or less the entire first half of the album -- and the production is polished to perfection. Fans content with more of the same should find plenty to enjoy on Where We Are, another in a long line of Westlife albums sure to generate one smash hit after another. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

Coast to Coast Play

Westlife's debut album was like an appetizer at Jean-Georgs, compared to the fast-food boy band music shoveled out on 99-cent menus. Their sophomore album, Coast to Coast, brings about that feeling of being overstuffed by a fancy main course and being offered dessert. At that point the quality of food doesn't matter as much; you're ready for the check. Even the Mariah Carey duet sounds rehashed -- is the best she would offer them a remake of her own remake of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds"? As was the case on their first album, the production quality is spectacular, so crystal clear that it makes the immaculate production of pop albums from just the last few years sound murky. The vocal talent here is powerful too -- bet your life savings that when the group fades into oblivion at least one of them will be jolted to higher fame. It is a familiar sight -- the trend that began with Take That, then shifted to Boyzone, then grasped by Westlife (who were mentored by Boyzone's Ronan Keating). It is as if the same group just keeps being reincarnated, but their age stays the same -- perhaps this is the United Kingdom's version of Menudo. While the money-minders of the record labels may not have a vision that extends much further from their earnings, their strategies have not artistically been in vain. Forget claims by those who pick favorites due to nostalgia. The music has only gotten better with each group. That is why, coming from a most promising cast of talent, Coast to Coast is so disappointing. It is stitched together with more of the same ("Angels Wings" is highly reminiscent, not in name only, of "Flying Without Wings"). Big, sweeping productions with graceful "oohing" and "aahing" choirs supplying the lead singers with atmosphere does sound exquisite, but it only goes so far when every song sounds like the last one. Whoever spends as much time getting the production quality just right has neglected to insist that the production sounds varied throughout. The songs are also not as memorable as in their previous work because the writing is so concentrated on one subject and sound. For evidence, notice how a later, stylish track, "Loneliness Knows Me By Name," kicks life into the album after a long, monotonous series of songs. "My Love" was also not chosen as the first single without good reason. It has the same lucidity as the best of their work. If not for their first album and the few really good new songs, Coast to Coast could have fooled anyone. There is a saying you may have heard, "Separate but equal." In this case, it is "Same but not equal." With every possible edge over the competition, it seems tragic that the producers and writers unconsciously chose that as their theme. ~ Peter Fawthrop, Rovi

Unbreakable: The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 Play

Westlife's Unbreakable, Vol. 1: The Greatest Hits collects the Irish boy band's definitive tracks from their career to date, including "Flying Without Wings," "Swear It Again," "I Lay My Love on You," and "Queen of My Heart." However, the collection tends to feature remixes and single edits of the group's best-known songs, which may frustrate fans who don't already own the album versions (but please those who do). Other highlights include the band's collaboration with Mariah Carey on a cover of "Against All Odds," "Bop Bop Baby," "Written in the Stars," and "When You're Looking Like That." While it remains to be seen whether or not there will be a volume two of Unbreakable, Unbreakable, Vol. 1 does an adequate job of showcasing Westlife's best moments so far. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
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