I still remember the days when Westlife were untarnished. They’d made a few nice songs with people like Max Martin, Rami and Andreas Carlsson. They’d released a cover, but it was of an ABBA song, so at least they had good taste. However, it all went wrong very quickly and very severely. They did more and more covers of the most uninspired choices – Against All Odds, Uptown Girl and the worst one of all, Cliff Richard’s Miss You Nights. There were some quite poptastic original songs, such as the European/Asian single releases When You’re Looking Like That and I Lay My Love on You, but in the UK they churned out ballad after ballad, each one a little more soul-destroying than the last. Their Turnaround album had to be their worst, the hideous singles including Hey Whatever, Obvious and Mandy. It was so bad even Brian McFadden decided it was below him… and he was married to Kerry Katona!
After the dreadful Turnaround, somehow Westlife managed to make an even worse album: a collection of Rat Pack covers. The amusing title, Allow Us To Be Frank, was the only positive thing about it. The atrocities continued as Westlife managed to release a series of cover versions, including You Raise Me Up, When You Tell Me That You Love Me, Home and The Rose, which were even more skin-crawling than their previous attempts to send the entire country to suicide. Worst of all, they were huge hits.
However, there were a few moments where Westlife still seemed to be the band the public fell for back in 1998, particularly the two singles written by Savan Kotecha and friends, Amazing and Something Right. They may have shared album space with some of the worst recorded music of the last ten years, but they are by far my favourite songs that Westlife have done since their second album. I might actually go so far to say that Something Right, a European single release, is actually the best song Westlife have ever done. It’s very unoriginal but that doesn’t bother me, because the chorus is so catchy and the song’s familiarity is comforting and uplifting. It’s a proper Swedish pop song, just how I love them.
With these recent triumphs in mind, and a promise from Mark that their new album was their best yet, I decided to give it a go. The presence of songwriters including Ryan Tedder, Emanuel Kiriakou, Shaznay Lewis, AJ McClean, Carl Falk and Conner Reeves (who I was once oddly obsessed with) sealed the deal. For the first time since Coast To Coast I had chosen to listen to a Westlife album start to finish!
The album begins, of course, with the Westlife version of Daughtry’s What About Now. I was never a big fan of the original, but I do love how this whole episode blurs the distinction between rock and pop music. Daughtry is obviously a rock singer, but when Westlife, clearly not in any way rock singers, sing the same song, it sounds almost exactly identical! More than ever different areas of pop music are blurring, especially with the crossover between R&B and rock (well, adult contemporary really) music seen when acts like Leona, Jordin and Beyoncé collaborate with people like Ryan Tedder and cover Oasis and Snow Patrol songs. I love this trend because it basically consists of fantastically talented singers covering boring blokes’ songs and making clear how redundant those boring blokes actually are. Hopefully in the future they’ll stick to songwriting.
It seems to me that the aim of this Westlife album is to make the same move but with a boyband rather than a female pop/r&b singer. There are two Ryan Tedder songs (Shadows and Where We Are) and another, How To Break A Heart, by Louis Biancaniello and Sam Watters, who co-wrote the amazing Battlefield and some of Kate Earl’s songs. These three are certainly the highlights of the album, although Where We Are is the only one close to the greatness of Something Right, and even that is completely ‘Ryan Tedder by numbers’.
Unfortunately there are still plenty of other tracks which are no more interesting than anything we’ve heard from Westlife before. Leaving (written by Bryn Christopher – where is he now??) is a competent but completely forgettable ballad and As Love Is My Witness would be much better if Conner Reeves was singing it himself. Emanuel Kiriakou’s track, No More Heroes, is pleasant but nowhere near his best work, and the Westlife version of Talk Me Down will never compare to lovely Sam Taylor’s, although it is a very nice ballad. There is one unexpected triumph in the form of The Difference, contributed by the writers of Torn by Natalie Imbruglia and Listen by Beyoncé. Anne Preven and Scott Cutler haven’t done very much but their work has been consistently excellent so far.
So, that wasn’t too much of a traumatising experience, but I’m still very far from converted to Westlife fandom. They remain the most boring boyband around, even with songs written for them by some of my favourite writers. Clearly they sent all their dullest cast-offs to be used on this album. I don’t feel compelled to listen to any of the songs again. Still, listening to the album wasn’t a complete waste of time – I now have proof to back up what I have been saying for the last seven years, that Westlife have absolutely no right to reside on Planet Pop. Can we evict them now, please?