|03-03-2023, 07:24 PM||#21 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-03-2023, 07:40 PM||#22 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
The longest Boyzone album to date, clocking in just short of seventy minutes and containing fifteen tracks, Where We Belong was released in 1998 and again shot straight to the top of the Irish charts, getting to number one in the UK too. It contained a track which would become their biggest-selling single, as well as another cover version which would forever be identified with them.
Where We Belong --- Boyzone --- 1998 (Polydor)
There's often a sense of seventies soul to Boyzone's music that tends not always to be the same case with other boybands, and so it is with the opener to this, their third album, and indeed “Picture of you” won Ronan Keating an Ivor Novello and was featured in the Rowan Atkinson movie Bean (well, the second one anyway). It's a boppy, uptempo, cheerful song with a lot of brass, and a good opener. It's followed by the cover version of Tracy Chapman's “Baby can I hold you”, which would give them yet another hit single, reaching number two in the UK and Ireland, and forever consigning Tracy's original to the mists of history, at least in the minds of the younger generation, who by now no doubt thought that Boyzone wrote “Father and son” and “Words”.
A mid-paced half-ballad is up next, and “All that I need” is harmless enough, certainly lacking the emotion or class of a Take That song, but also eschewing the bubblegum pop/dance of Nsync. There's a funkiness about “Must have been high” (possibly controversial, given Ireland's strict catholic outlook on such matters) then the first proper ballad in “And I”, with some gentle digital piano and acoustic guitar. One thing that has always annoyed me about Ronan Keating is the “twang” he puts into his voice, as if he were singing in Nashville. Whether it's affected or genuine I don't know, but I haven't heard of any Dubliner having such an accent, and it's pretty infuriating.
Another ballad in “That's how love goes”, and yet another in “Where did you go”, then a nice idea in “I'm learning (Part 1)”, which although even another ballad (that's four in a row so far) is bookended later by part 2, and is a nice slow introspective song. Things finally pick up for “One kiss at a time”, a soul/jazz pop dancer reminscent of that soul revivalist, Phil Collins. Nothing particularly special, but it does provide welcome respite from Keating's somewhat whining crooning on the multi-ballads that have taken up the last twelve minutes or so.
It's short-lived though, as we're back with the ballads for the admittedly quite good “While the world is going crazy”, and things remain slow and laidback for what is essentially the title track, the acoustic guitar-driven “This is where I belong”. Tempo rises slightly for “Will be yours”, but it's still quite balladic in its structure, kind of similar in structure to the title track off their previous album, with some nice backing vocals, then a nice relaxed guitar intro to “Good conversation”, very restrained, nice and easy. And things stay that way for “You flew away”, making at this point eight ballads, out of a total of fifteen tracks, and that's not including “Baby can I hold you”.
Oddly, their biggest hit single, and the only one to gain any purchase for the band in the US, was not on the original UK version of the album, but everyone knows “No matter what”, and in fact you can add that to the total of ballads if you like. It's not on my copy, so the closing track then is “I'm learning (Part II)”, a nice little piano ballad to end what is almost an album of ballads, certainly they're in the majority. Out of a total of 68 minutes and 35 seconds, the combined ballads (including Chapman's song) make up 40 minutes and change: that's a lot of slow songs! And that doesn't include “No matter what”.
1. Picture of you
2. Baby can I hold you
3. All that I need
4. Must have been high
5. And I
6. That's how love goes
7. Where did you go
8. I'm learning (Part 1)
9. One kiss at a time
10. While the world is going crazy
11. This is where I belong
12. Will be yours
13. Good conversation
14. You flew away
15. I'm learning (Part 2)
There would then elapse twelve years before the next, and so far, final album from Boyzone. During that time Stephen Gately would “come out”, revealing that he was gay, and then die from natural causes in 2009. Before that, Boyzone decided to break up, or as the Americans say, enter into hiatus. Keating embarked on a rather successful solo career, that indeed proved to make him at any rate better known in the USA than Boyzone ever were, with the success of his single “When you say nothing at all”, especially when it was featured in the movie Notting Hill. Kieran Duffy became well-known on TV for his role in the TV soap Coronation Street, while Gately took to acting on stage, and also writing children's books.
In 2000, Boyzone played what was to be their final gig in Dublin, and seven years later reunited for a tour, but it would be another three years before their fourth album would be released. The album sleeve features the four remaining members of Boyzone, but is dedicated to their late fifth member, Stephen Gately, and his voice can be heard posthumously on the opener and also on the track “Stronger”.
Brother --- Boyzone --- 2010 (Universal)
Featuring for the first time no input whatever to the songwriting from any of the band, most interesting nothing from Ronan Keating, this stands as, so far, the last Boyzone album. A slew of pop songwriters were drafted in, a different writer it seems for every track on the album. The result is, finally, a more adult-oriented album, tipping more towards the scale of soft rock than pop or dance, and allowing Boyzone to finally grow up.
In a nice and fitting touch, the album is opened and closed by the last tracks on which Gately sings, the opener being “Gave it all away”, a nice emotional ballad which has less of the sugar-sweet themes of previous Boyzone songs and more the mature sound of Robbie Williams or Take That. It goes into a sort of reggae beat halfway through, which confuses me a little: can't see the point of that at all. Nice song to open the album though. Gately doesn't sing solo on it though, as Ronan Keating soon comes in in his usual role as main vocalist.
There's a real sense of AOR about “Love is a hurricane” (although Keating had previously argued that it was a rollercoaster, on his debut solo album...), with a nice bright bouncy piano line, and you would begin to wonder if Brother could be Boyzone's Beautiful World? The only difference here would be that whereas Take That refined their songwriting to craft some excellent tracks and a wonderful album, the change here has to be down to the many different songwriters used, so can it be said, if such a seachange is seen by the time the album ends, that Boyzone orchestrated the change?
High quality continues in “Ruby”, a half-ballad with nice rolling percussion, and I notice only now that again I haven't reached for the forward button, unlike the three previous Boyzone efforts, which were certainly skipped through as I got a flavour of each track. This certainly bodes well, but can it last? We'll see. “Too late for hallelujah” veers a little into venerated U2 territory, with a great rhythm section adding a real sense of tension and drama to the song, and I must say Ronan Keating is in probably the finest voice he's been. Probably the best compliment you could pay Boyzone on this album (so far) is that were you to hear any of these songs on the radio you would be surprised to realise who was singing them, as they do not in any way sound like the usual fare Boyzone have plied up to now.
Sounding very Robbie Williams, the delicate ballad “Separate cars” does nothing to change my belief that this is going to be a far different Boyzone album to any of the previous three. About a minute in, it kicks into life and the old soul influences come back to bear, but with a lot of maturity now. Perhaps the shock at the loss of their friend and bandmate has shaken them out of complacency, shown them how lucky they are to be where they are, or perhaps they've all just grown since their last outing, I don't know, but this is a far more mature album than anything they've put out. There's real emotion and power in “Separate cars”, and even Keating seems to have eschewed the country lisp in his voice that he practiced up to now, sounding much more natural.
It's a pity that they couldn't have pulled off this transformation with their own songs, as some of the lyrics here seem to point directly to the loss of Stephen Gately, as in “One more song”, when Keating sings ”When you left/ You took the melody with you” and ”When I'm down/ I look up to the sky.” It's a nice mid-paced pop tune, as Ronan sings ”I would give anything/ Just to hear you sing again.” Very touching, but it would have carried more weight if they had at least been involved in the writing. “Right here waiting”, despite the title, is not a cover of the Richard Marx classic ballad --- in fact, there look to be no covers on this album, another first for Boyzone --- but is rather an anthemic mid-pacer with a nice line in guitar, while “Nothing without you” starts off with tender piano, a song which really showcases Ronan's voice with a Hornsbyesque track that gets going again about a minute in and really starts to, er, rock.
Piano also features heavily in “Till the sun goes down”, a half-ballad with rocky overtones, and as I more or less suspected, I've not come across one bad track yet. AND I've been listening to every track all the way through. There are only three left, so it's exceptionally unlikely I'll encounter one that makes me want to skip through it, as I move on to “Time”, which sets its stall out from the off, with jingly guitar and dull, thumping drums, another U2-inspired groove that probably set stadiums alight wherever they went on their tour.
Boyzone try their hand at gospel for “Let your wall fall down”, with deep, heavy church organ and a full choir. Hallelujah, indeed! The album closes then, fittingly, with the final words from Stephen Gately on “Stronger”, delicate acoustic guitar and piano backing a fragile little ballad, a poignant and moving end to what has stood for two years as Boyzone's final album.
Like Take That before them, I believe Boyzone pulled off the extremely difficult task of reinventing themselves on this album, made the harder considering they had to face life and their public with the loss of one of their members. Although Take That did it independently, as mentioned above, and Boyzone had to hand over songwriting duties to professionals to change their sound, and their perception outside their fanbase, I commend them for this huge change of direction and on making “Brother” their most adult and accessible album to date. If they wanted (as I'm sure they did) to create a fitting tribute to the late Stephen Gately, they succeeded without question, and in fine style too.
1. Gave it all away
2. Love is a hurricane
4. Too late for hallelujah
5. Separate cars
6. Right here waiting
7. One more song
8. Nothing without you
9. Till the sun goes down
11. Let your wall fall down
I stretch and rub my eyes, glancing at the big clock on the library wall which reveals it's now 4am. I shut off my laptop and unplug it from the socket, sliding it back into its case, the sounds of acoustic guitar and digital piano still echoing in my ears. Tomorrow (well, today really) I'll be leaving Greater Boybandland, my mission here complete, and travelling to the furthest reaches of this country, where I'll research the modern boybands and see what, if any, lessons are to be learned from what I've experienced here.
I'm alone as I leave the library, but for the curator, who barely looks my way, obviously recognising me as someone who is not into boyband music, and therefore hardly worth her notice. I suppress a scowl at the slight prejudice, but it's a virulent disease that runs rampant all across this land from north to south and from coast to coast, and I've learned to accept and deal with it.
As I make my way back to my hotel I reflect on what I've learned. Whereas in Early Boybandland all I really found was that boybands (early American ones, at least) played watered-down pop, soul and dance music that had little or nothing to say, and was fairly formulaic and generic, here in GBBL I've learned, mostly down here in the south, that boybands can change, that they can break beyond the rigid musical boundaries they find themselves in, that they can try other things and that, given the right impetus and decent songs they can start to regard themselves as “proper” bands, or more to the point perhaps, be regarded by other than their fans as proper musicians.
I've already noted that I have been impressed by two boyband albums, both of whom come from my side of the Atlantic, and it gives me hope. When, in preparation for this series of articles, several months ago, I went searching torrents for Nsync, Backstreet Boys, Boyzone and Westlife, and other boybands, I felt kind of dirty having them on my hard drive, and had absolutely no doubt that, once the article was written and published, I would summarily delete them from my computer, never wishing to listen to them again. However, I'm as surprised as anyone to admit that there are one or two albums I will be keeping, and listening to just for pleasure.
I suppose in the final analysis this series has proven, or is proving, that you can never take anything for granted, judge nothing at face value, and that in this wonderful and varied world of music, there's always some new surprise waiting for you, if you have the courage to look for it and allow it to affect you. In the end, close-mindedness is the enemy of all music: just because you don't like ---- or haven't heard, but have formed an instant and uninformed opinion about --- certain music, does not mean that there isn't something there, waiting to be discovered, waiting to inform and educate you, and perhaps open a small door into a much wider world of music, a door you would never previously have chosen, or dared, to walk through.
I've titled this section “Stranger in a strange land”, and treated it as allegorical to a sea voyage, a journey of exploration and discovery, and like most explorers, I find I'll be coming back with more than a few little treasures and mementoes, and a better understanding of something about which I was largely ignorant, and uncaring, before I set off. I'm not becoming anything close to a fan of boyband music, but I can begin to see something of merit in some of it. This traveller is starting to feel less of a stranger in these lands.
Squinting blearily up at the night sky as I make my way back to my hotel, I wonder if it's too late to catch Shaymus at the Bertie Inn?
BUT TROLLHEART WILL RETURN IN THE SUMMER, IN THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF THIS SERIES.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018