The comeback trail for Boyzone was a bumpy one long before the death of Stephen Gately in October 2009, an event that delayed completion of this fourth studio album.
Back Again… No Matter What, released in 2008 to coincide with reunion activity – the group had been effectively disbanded since 2000 – was a poorly received rehashing of 1999’s best-of set, By Request; its three new songs offered little beyond the established, ballad-heavy formula. Tour tickets sold well, but unlike 1990s rivals-cum-peers Take That, Boyzone didn’t noticeably embrace a fresh audience upon their return.
While Take That have now courted the affections of three generations, the stolid, workmanlike approach to arrangement on Boyzone albums has always been too clinical to enjoy comparable appeal. And it was only after Take That’s split in 1996 that Boyzone hit their creative stride, with third album Where We Belong (1998) featuring a number of tracks written by the singers themselves.
Sadly, in the same year they took Westlife on tour with them, leading to a period of pop dominance that most will want to forget. Seven numbers ones in a row: who’d admit to buying them now? Anyway, pardon the digression: back to Brother matters, and album four from Boyzone plays out largely to expectations. It’s soft about its edges, its lyrical content exclusively syrupy – but that’s fine, as at this stage in their career, pronounced progression was never a likely option. The four play to recognised strengths, and their writing/producing team – with credits like Leona Lewis, Celine Dion and Delta Goodrem – is an accomplished, if not particularly showy one.
It’s sad, though, that Gately eulogy-of-sorts Gave It All Away – written by Mika, and featuring the late singer’s easily identifiable vocals – is so very poor. Beginning with backwards strings, the song shuffles to an awkward, cod-reggae beat – imagine Ali Campbell on auto pilot, writing for the money. Such is the opener’s weakness that Love Is a Hurricane can’t fail to impress. Invigoratingly breezy, and featuring a strong Ronan Keating lead vocal, it’s evidence that Boyzone can raise the pace when it suits them, rare though such instances are. Let Your Wall Fall Down is another welcome diversion into such territories.
But with ballads dominating, Brother is a Boyzone album for Boyzone fans – younger ears accustomed to the faster RnB tempos of contemporary boybands like JLS may wonder what the fuss was ever about. --Mike Diver
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