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Having sold over 44 million records worldwide, had 14 number one singles and seven number one albums, Irish super-group Westlife celebrate over 14 years of success with the release of their Greatest Hits. With two Brits, an MTV Award, a World Music Award, no less than four Record of The Years under their belt and an incredible back catalogue spanning well over a decade not many artists can compare to Westlife’s extraordinary success. In the UK alone they have earned the title of Biggest Selling International Band this Decade, scoring 10 multi platinum albums, the third highest number one single record in UK history (with only Elvis Presley and The Beatles ahead) and they also hold the crown for the Biggest Arena Act of All Time in the UK performing a record of 25 concerts at Wembley Arena.
They arrived in the middle of a pre-X Factor boyband boom, five guys standing in a line, looking constipated in love, and plucking imaginary keys out of the air. In popular memory, every new single was a ballad, ending with a key-change, the boom of a confetti cannon, and a sudden leap off a line of stools. Fourteen number one singles and one former bandmate later and they’re leaving amid a craze for cavernously anthemic pop/classical albums, made by stubbly men in tuxedos who don’t care about credibility. It’s a genre they paved the way for, possibly without realising it.
A Westlife greatest hits is a controversial thing. To some, the very idea is an oxymoron; to others, a missed opportunity for a box set. And while the addition of four new songs – at the expense of actual hits like When You’re Looking Like That – offers value for money for the fans, it defeats the object of the exercise a smidge.
It’s strange listening to all of these triumph-after-adversity songs in one go, in the context of this being the band’s final album. In a way, they’ve been singing nothing but grand finales since their very first single, Swear It Again, and now the curtain is finally closing for real, there’s nowhere left to go, musically or emotionally. They’ve found that special thing; they’re flying without wings. Certainly the songs can’t swoosh upward any swooshier, the key changes can’t boom any louder. You get as far as You Raise Me Up, and it’s all over.
Which is a problem for these new songs. Had the chipper Lighthouse – written by Gary Barlow – been released two years ago, it probably wouldn’t have made the list. On the other hand, the more agitated Beautiful World and Wide Open actually hint at new possibilities, being close to recent hits by Tinie Tempah and Bruno Mars respectively.
The genuine finale, Last Mile of the Way, is an understated country waltz – no key change, no boom, no fireworks: a rather sweet ending, and one your ears will probably be begging for after more than an hour of solid bombast.
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