Forget McFly for a moment. Westlife are breaking up. I was so moved when I heard the news that I unsettled myself. Until that moment, I hadn't known I cared.
There's nothing like the "end of an era" to make you nostalgic, which is why I spent a couple of evenings last week going through the 'Life's old hits from the late 1990s and early 2000s, and being surprised at how much they had contributed to what I might call the soundtrack of my life. Even those singles I didn't think I knew, I was easily able to sing along to.
And a couple of afternoons ago, when I asked my best friend whether I could play a newly purchased Westlife CD in her car (Better late than never, LOL!), she felt many of her own memories rushing back to her.
What follows is less an album review than a loose collection of reflections . . . which seems only appropriate for a Greatest Hits compilation.
Seven Notes on Unbreakable: The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
D: When Westlife first entered the international music scene, I paid only disdainful attention. Still reeling from the break up of Take That (something Christopher is not allowed to comment on), I could hardly be expected to care for a new boyband that seemed more like the hated Boyzone than a new act carving out a unique niche.
Fourteen years later, I can listen with less indignant ears . . . and make better critical notes. For instance, something about their earliest hits are very "generic 90s boyband". If I Let You Go, in particular, sounds as if it could have been sung by N*Sync or the Backstreet Boys or even 98 Degrees. (Those Americans . . .)
In case anyone cares, my best friend said something similar about the middle eight of I Lay My Love on You: "This could be a BSB bridge!" (I learned later that the same writers were selling songs to both bands. Hmmmm.)
E: What finally changed my mind (or my heart?) with respect to Westlife was the lead single from their second album. My Love could have been another run-of-the-pop-mill romantic ballad. They turned it into a love anthem bursting with Irish pride.
I didn't fully appreciate that until I tried covering My Love with Christine the other night and realised how sad it actually is. Westlife found the smile in this song. There's no other way to explain it.
F: Westlife are best known for their ballads (and more disparagingly, for their covers), but I like their up-tempo stuff best. Even World of Our Own, one of the least melodic songs ever written, is fantastic to me.
(Back in my best friend's car, it was Flying without Wings that got her wondering, "Do you think anyone will ever feel that way about me . . . ?" But it's World of Our Own that gets me wondering if I will ever feel that way about someone else. I'm a cold and fishy sort of romantic.)
G: Perhaps Westlife's greatest cover is of Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. I don't mean to offend anyone who loves the original and can't stand that a boyband got within recording distance of it, but it's actually really good. They didn't do anything new with it at all, but they got an old song some new fans and made those who already liked it love it even more.
It's also arguably their best music video. I love the five snobs. =P
A: This compilation has two low points--and curiously enough, they are the two collaborations. Against All Odds, the "duet" with Mariah Carey, is the track I skip on principle. And the new version of Flying without Wings featuring Korean pop star BoA (Hey, mate, I don't get it, either) singlehandedly sinks the album. Nothing to embed here that wouldn't insult my blog.
B: There are five new tracks on this album, three of which were also released as singles. And all three are very
I may never say this again, because my official statement on former member Bryan McFadden is that he did them a favour by leaving . . . but listening to this again makes me miss his voice. (It also makes me wonder whether he was the only one of them willing to take any actual creative chances. They've been pretty bland for the past ten years.)
C: And now we arrive at the real enigma of Westlife's career: what their special "x factor" is.
They don't seem very extraordinary, do they? They definitely don't take many artistic risks. They've never thrown out any real meat for the tabloids to feast on. And despite their record-breaking success, nobody can say they changed the soundscape of British Pop. There's nothing to their dancing; they don't stage spectacular live shows; they churn out competent cover versions as often as "original" songs they didn't write themselves. (Well, McFadden wrote one or two . . .) You'll never find pop stars as stripped down as these four.
Ten years ago, I never thought I'd ever say this about such a consistently generic, openly manufactured, painstakingly produced act, but . . . it seems that for Westlife, it actually is about the music--and only the music--after all.
Image Source: Unbreakable: The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 by Westlife