Keating’s first LP of originals since 2006 recalls the joie de vivre of earlier hits.
Mike Diver 2012
Pardon the pun, but life’s been something of a rollercoaster for Ronan Keating since his last album of original material, 2006’s Bring You Home, tickled the UK top 10. The Dublin-born singer’s seen the band that made his name, Boyzone, reform after a seven-year hiatus; his bandmate and great friend Stephen Gately passed away in 2009; and his 13-year marriage collapsed in 2011.
Such professional and personal turbulence certainly seems like suitable inspiration for a powerful, personal comeback set. But while Fires is, at times, greatly enjoyable, harking back to Keating’s turn-of-the-millennium mainstream radio ubiquity, it never channels emotions in a way that connects the listener with the obstacles this performer’s had to overcome.
But perhaps Keating’s objective with Fires was to escape any lingering demons – and, if that was the case, he’s mostly succeeded. I’ve Got You opens with lyricism cursing Keating’s missteps; but it soon enough explodes into a triumphant, U2-recalling pop-rocker, with the singer stretching for, and reaching, the kind of captivating vocal performance that few in his league can manage.
Throughout, tried-and-tested metaphors are prevalent in Keating’s lyrics – but, then, what’s pop without some transparent figures of speech? Oxygen is about – you guessed it – an object of our protagonist’s affections acting as his “oxygen” (sigh). When Love You and Leave You speaks of there being no smoke without fire, that background drone isn’t on the track itself – it’s a thousand listeners groaning in unison.
Strong production from Greg Wells (Adele, Katy Perry) and Gregg Alexander (who’s got previous with both Keating and Boyzone) keeps the tone cohesive, slower numbers balanced well by up-tempo cuts. Nineteen Again and NYC Girl are throwbacks to Lovin’ Each Day-period joie de vivre. They’re more Back-to-the-90s Butlins Weekender than contemporary club dancefloor-fillers, but Keating knows his audience well: they’ve grown up together, their relationship strongly symbiotic since day one.
Some truly from-the-heart lyricism would have pushed Fires into a higher bracket of critical appreciation, and there are duds here (Lullaby’s sentiments are well-meant, but they’re awfully expressed). But a few bloopers aside, this is probably Keating’s best album since his eponymous debut.