The boyband’s seventh album of originals sets its sights on the US market.
Mike Diver 2009
Despite their amazing UK sales, Westlife have never conquered the American market. So what, you might think. Who cares about flogging a few more albums in the States? Clearly the powers that be behind the Irish quartet do.
Where We Are sees Louis Walsh’s charges working with a host of writers with plenty of experience in the US charts. Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, who also contributed to Leona Lewis’ Echo, delivers Shadows. It’s a blustery ballad, and a much edgier arrangement than many of Westlife’s previous hits. That it still features a trademark key change, aka The Moment They Get Off Their Stools, rather lessens its effectiveness, but you’ve got to give the fans what they want.
Which, mostly, Where We Are does. Nobody buys Westlife records for the radical progressions contained within; their albums disappear from the shelves because they’re a safe bet. In 11 years their style has barely changed, and it’s this consistency, more than anything else, that’s been the cornerstone of their success. Gently swaying numbers like Talk Me Down and As Love is My Witness, the latter penned by 1990s flash-in-the-pan Conner Reeves, are aural potpourri, pleasant at a distance but distinctly unpalatable up close. And that’s fine, it’s to be expected.
But there are surprises on this disc. US producer Scott Cutler generates a little heat with The Difference, where the percussion rises like an arena-filling Coldplay anthem. Lead single What About Now – originally released by Daughtry and written by Ben Moody, formerly of Evanescence – is similarly indie-influenced, with guitar high in the mix. It’s every bit as immediate as Take That’s comeback material, and will have fingers tapping on steering wheels in earnest during drive time plays. Steve Booker, who recorded alongside George Clinton in the 1970s, contributes Another World, which is this album’s soulful highlight.
Yet the songs never stray too far from safety. Closer I’ll See You Again is typical torch song fare, executed with the efficiency fans have come to expect, and several others stick to a formula that’s served Westlife well, but does now sound dated. The best tracks could see them stir interest in the US like never before, but they’ll need to go for broke stylistically next time if attentions are to be retained. And it can’t hurt to try – if it’s got Westlife written on it, it’ll sell splendidly across these isles whatever the product.