The run-up to Christmas has spawned yet another Westlife-shaped stocking filler, their 11th long-player in a reign which has so far spawned over 44 million album sales worldwide. Predictably, Gravity’s 12 tracks prove not timeless, but as outside of the realms of ambition, place and time as the 10 albums that have come before.
Gravity is the musical equivalent of greetings-card copy, and sees the four-piece attempting to break into a sentimental sweat... with a rockier edge. Or at least that’s how they’d like this album to be billed. The reality is a host of songs as predictable as Westlife have ever been, with the standard quota of covers (two), the standard quota of upbeat numbers (two) and the standard quota of ‘wholesome’ (throughout).
They meet their own standard, sure – but Westlife are becoming their own boilerplate so much so that the style guide has gone over word-limit. Lyrically, Gravity is full of the regular wist – “so if I’m dreaming / don’t wake me up I’m so alive,” sings Shane Filan on Beautiful Tonight. But even if there is some emotion or situation-specific context to the songs on Gravity, they’re lost in that same waterbed of cliché.
The songs on Gravity aren’t as de facto soppy as their previous albums, perhaps because of John Shanks (Alanis Morissette, Carlos Santana, Bon Jovi) coming on board as producer – but this isn’t a move in any direction at all, more just a marketing strategy. There’s a cover of Hoobastank’s The Reason, and another of Athlete’s Chances, and that seems enough to set Westlife’s intentions in stone. To suggest there’s any passion for rock is as ingenious as the story that the album’s one-word title came from a suggestion on Twitter, as has been played out.
For music made to sound so easy on the ear, Mark Feehily’s vocals often sound shrill; but such is the temporary nature of these songs that a trace of character outside of the middle-ground just slips by. Westlife aim for the real-instruments respect and songwriting nous of Gary Barlow, but fall flat on an overuse of words desperately trying to be genuine – it’s all about empathy, and familiar imagery alongside the cliché.
There’s not an arrangement here without lilting piano suspensions, lush strings, a windswept chorus and a defiant key change – and it’s questionable what this album has to offer to anyone other than a completist.
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