Warner Music UK
Release Date: November 26th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Alone Together
- Wild Dreams
- Do You Ever Think Of Me
- My Hero
- End of Time
- Always With Me
- World Of Our Own (Live At Ulster Hall)
- Uptown Girl (Live At Ulster Hall)
- Flying Without Wings (Live At Ulster Hall)
- You Raise Me Up (Live At Ulster Hall)
When Westlife made the unanimous decision to part ways in 2011, I don’t think anyone really grasped the gravity of the split. Back then, they were considered the pinnacle of boy band acts within the U.K., with Ronan Keating’s Boyzone and Robbie Williams’s Take That, being the boy band ‘rivals’ to Westlife. Comprising of vocalists Kian Egan, Shane Filan, Nicky Bryne and Markus Feehily; Westlife left the boy band ‘space’ behind in 2011; and with several highly regarded albums as evidence of their reign, too. Albums like Coast to Coast, Face to Face, Allow Us to be Frank, The Love Album, World of Our Own, Turnaround and Where We Are, are just some of the albums Westlife released during the 2000s, delivering songs and albums that defined the decade in the U.K. Songs like ‘Swear It Again’, ‘Flying Without Wings’, ‘My Love’, ‘Queen of My Heart’, ‘Safe’, ‘Lighthouse’, ‘Home’, ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘If I Let You Go’ are just some of Westlife’s standouts that listeners were able to hear on the radio and other digital devices once 2011 rolled around.
Everyone assumed Westlife’s tenure as a band had come to an end…but 8 years later in 2019, Westlife sprung to life again, with their comeback single ‘Hello My Love’ (written by Ed Sheeran) that released in January 2019. Catchy, enjoyable and at times emotive, this upbeat track that was over the airwaves for a substantial time throughout the year, was the first single from their comeback 2019 album Spectrum that unveiled on the same day as Lady A’s Ocean and Celine Dion’s Courage. With stiff competition in terms of ‘competing’ with the other artist’s album releases on release day; it was no surprise that Westlife failed to compete (in every way) with Lady A or Celine Dion, but regardless of this fact, Westlife still made a big impact and statement- that their hiatus was over and that their music was still here to stay.
While I’m still not ‘cultured’ as much when it comes to Westlife’s music; Spectrum allowed me to explore more of Westlife’s discography. Songs like ‘Hello My Love’, ‘Better Man’, ‘Dynamite’ and ‘My Blood’ were standouts from Spectrum, and it has been these four songs that remind me of the impact Westlife has had on U.K. music in general, and a band that I should’ve listened to earlier in my life? Regardless of my late introduction to Westlife and their music, I’ve still been excited to hear whatever they decide to release into the ether. Now 2 years later from the release of Spectrum comes Wild Dreams, a follow-up musically, stylistically, and thematically to Spectrum. Comprised of lead single ‘Starlight’ and promotional single ‘Alone Together’, the album will be a hit with Westlife enthusiasts who have enjoyed their music of the past, but unfortunately, the ability for this album to translate into sales and bringing in ‘new’ fans, won’t be as high as albums of the past- because of the hiatus, and the heavy use of synth productions in their 2 most recent albums (Spectrum and Wild Dreams), this album’s enjoyability will be reduced to people who have loved Westlife before…and no one else.
Unfortunately, Westlife are at the stage in their career where their music doesn’t really resonate with the current younger generation. There’s a different style of pop that Westlife embodies that is vastly different compared to the current pop (a la Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, The Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Lizzo), and maybe that’as ok. It’s a pop that is more aligned with 1990s/2000s artists compared to what we have in the music industry right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Listeners relate to the music that they grow up with, and it’s therefore assumed that Westlife’s new album won’t be as memorable to the adolescants and adults of today, especially since their popularity on the radio and around the world unfortunately dipped because of their hiatus. Nevertheless, Wild Dreams released in November 2021, and what has resulted is 11 tracks (15 on the deluxe edition) of hope, heartbreak, and perseverance, as Kian, Nicky, Shane, and Markus deliver their brand of pop that will certainly appeal to listeners of band who have been fans for quite some time. Westlife and their music currently won’t appeal to everyone, nor will it be understood. That’s ok. Westlife still have their place in music, and their most recent album Wild Dreams still has some good things to say, even if at first glance, this album feels a little too over-produced and lyrically similar to albums gone before.
‘Starlight’ is the first single from the band from this album. Released in October 2021, the song shows the persona singing to their significant other, stating that the character that this significant other possesses is just like a starlight, lighting up the sky and being in such a way where people around them gravitate to their kindness and joyful demeanour; as we see this anthem remind us all, that we all have the capacity to exhibit joy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness in our daily lives. It’s a daily choice for each of us, to see if we hide our very own ‘starlights’; or shine them bright for the world to see. We all have capacity inside of us to love without condition and celebrate in someone else’s triumphs, while also mourn for someone’s lossees too, and it takes real maturity and wisdom to showcase such vulnerability and compassion. ‘Starlight’ speaks about an effect someone can have on you and those around them; and is a reminder to see within ourselves and whether we have the potential and the perseverance to showcase these ‘starlights’, regardless of how they may look to people or whether or not they make sense.
Furthering on from ‘Starlight’ is ‘Alone Together’, a song that really embraces and embodies the synth production that a lot of other songs on the album showcase as well. The song is a funny one, where the song states that two people should be ‘alone together’, in a sense where both people entering into this companionship and friendship are two people who have had their heart broken. Two people who have experienced heartbreak before in their lives, will be perfect to ease each other and help each other along the path towards healing. And while it can seem as though the two people presented in the song are each other’s ‘rebounds’; there is still a case for people who’ve gone through heartbreak, to share vulnerabilities with other people who’ve gone through that too, that shared experience is crucial and vital for people to feel as though they’re not alone with their heartbreak, that there is a way out of a seemingly difficult situation.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Kian, Nicky, Shane, and Markus deliver songs that strike a chord and hit home, with issues relevant to society discussed at length through the remainder 9 songs. ‘Wild Dreams’ stands at 2:32 and is a synth-pop track a la The Weeknd or Apollo Ltd, as these four vocalists impart this theme through the song, that sometimes after a breakup, it can be difficult to get the person out of your brain. Whether that’s a bad thing or not to entertain is left up to interpretation, but ‘Wild Dreams’ shows us a persona who indulges dreams about this someone who they’ve broken up with- maybe that’s trying to say that dreams in a general sense, are so much better than reality? Whatever the case, I’m sure someone can relate to this song…not me though! ‘Lifeline’ is one of the few anthemic ballads on the album where the persona is singing the praises of their significant other, stating that they are their lifeline, shining a light and giving hope to the persona during their darkest times. A song that can easily be sung as a praise and worship song to God Almighty Himself, ‘Lifetime’ is a reminder to each of us that we have people in our lives that, out of the goodness of their heart, want to help us during our difficult times. We all have ‘lifelines’- our friends, family and God Himself, and hopefully this song makes us see and understand that fact.
‘Alive’ takes a lesson from Coldplay to create an electro-pop song a la ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’, as Westlife shows the side of the band that is family-orientated. ‘Alive’ showcases the band members singing to their children (or are they singing to their younger selves), giving them hope and comfort that ‘…not everyone will understand you, not everyone will make you laugh like I do, not everyone will know just how you’re feeling, but everyone is not everything that you’re needing…’ ‘Rewind’ laments about a failed relationship, and longs for the opportunity to ‘rewind’ and…either do the relationship differently, or even handle the breakup differently? Whatever the case, Westlife provides an emotional song about lost chances and reminds us that to lament about what could’ve been is a natural thing. Even if relationships and friendships were meant to end, this song reminds us that maybe the endings of them weren’t how we would’ve wanted them to end- maybe this song causes us to seek closure in our damaged and hurt relationships, as we continue to travel through 2022? ‘Do You Ever Think of Me’ continues along the same vein of ‘Rewind’- this time in the aftermath of a breakup, the persona longs for an explanation as to why such a breakup would even happen in the first place, considering that the other person ‘…said you love me to death but then you left me in pieces, just don’t make sense the way we fell apart, said we’d make it through hell but then you left with no reason, just don’t make sense…’ More emotive as we feel for this persona who received something that no person would want on their lives and others, what is unfortunate isn’t the breakup per se- it’s the non-explanation, especially after love confessions between the two people. When you say things like ‘forever’ and ‘love’, you don’t get to disappear from said relationship without any adequate explanation as to ‘why’.
‘My Hero’ is ‘Lifeline’ part 2, as we see the vulnerabilities of the band come to the fore as Shane, Markus, Nicky, and Kian remind us all, that heros in our lives come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, it’s our family and friends, and this song reminds us that we don’t say thank you enough to the people who have sacrificed so much so that we could live ‘the good life’- they were ‘saving’ us from the life that maybe they experienced, and thus, they are our heroes each and every day. Mothers and Fathers sacrifice more than we know- maybe this song ought to encourage us to be grateful a little bit more? ‘End of Time’ is a song about commitment and perseverance, as we see the persona in the track declare his intentions- that he’ll love the other person till the end of time. Yes, it’s a bold declaration, but if you know that you love the other with your whole being, then such a declaration shouldn’t be that outlandish. It is a song about commitment, a song about dedication, and a song about being there for the other, even during the moments where they may not want you there, especially then.
The standard version of the album then ends with ‘Magic’ and ‘Always With Me’ (the deluxe edition showcase the live versions of ‘World of Our Own’, ‘Flying Without Wings’, ‘Uptown Girl’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’). ‘Magic’ is an electro-dance number reminiscent of something Earth, Wind and Fire would do, as the track reminds us that we have ‘magic’ within us- gifts and qualities given to us by God Himself. What we ought to do is to showcase the gifts we have, and to share joy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to people that need them the most (even if it is people that we don’t necessarily want to give our ‘magic’ to). ‘Always With Me’ is the last song on Wild Dreams (aside from the four deluxe-only live tracks), and is about a death in the family, and how the persona deals with the loss of their spouse. Death is a thing that people don’t necessarily talk about, and when they do, they make funny jokes and skirt around the issue. The loss of a loved one, especially a spouse, is a heavy toll on someone, and yet, it’s something people don’t necessarily speak about, because they may seem ‘weak’ if they do. Maybe ‘Always With Me’ can be the invitation that people need to open up with family members and friends, about they grief they’re feeling about losing people in their life to death? Hopefully. Regardless, ‘Always With Me’ is a great album-ender, before the live songs that revisit Westlife’s earlier years and hits. If you’ve been a fan of Westlife for ages, you’d know the next four songs (I myself only know ‘Uptown Girl’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’, because they’re originally recorded by Billy Joel and Josh Groban respectively), but even if you don’t, you can still see the passion exuberated from these tracks, as we’re reminded that standout songs from artists, decades ago, can still be enjoyable even now.
Westlife’s new album is enjoyable and heartfelt, emotive, and compelling, and yet I still feel as though this band didn’t do enough to capture a new generation. Maybe that’s what they want, to reinvent just enough to allow intrigue and interest, but still stay true to values, beliefs, and musical styles they’ve created music with, for quite some time. And that’s ok. Artists and albums ought not to be universally loved, but more often than not, if they are, then they’re trying to appease all groups of people, which isn’t really a good thing. I’m sure even the greats like The Beatles, ABBA, Queen, Beach Boys, U2, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, and Rich Mullins, had some haters, and I guess that’s no exception with Westlife either. Westlife’s new album is thought provoking and emotive, heartfelt, and joyful. It’s an album that allows us to reset during the pandemic, and hopefully inform us in making better decisions in years to come. Well done Westlife for this enjoyable album. Looking forward to songs like ‘Lifeline’ and ‘Alone Together’ being official radio singles in the upcoming year ahead!
3 songs to listen to: Starlight, My Hero, Lifeline
RIYL: Boyzone, Ronan Keating, Backstreet Boys, Take That, *NSYNC